Friday, January 31, 2014

My Best Health and Beauty Decisions

Several days ago, I was reading one of the many blogs I follow and this question came up--what has been your best beauty decision you've ever made? I thought about it for awhile and realized that the best health decisions have actually served as great beauty decisions and vice versa. As I've gotten older (and hopefully wiser), I've made both conscious and not-so-conscious beauty and health decisions that have turned out to be blessings. So what are my best decisions? Read on for that list and see if any of them apply to you as well!

Avoid the sun and always wear sunblock

All thru my twenties and thirties, I regularly visited the tanning salon (I'm cringing as I'm typing these words). Since my skin is so fair, I "justified" it by telling myself I needed a "base tan" in order to keep myself from burning on vacation. Now I'm older and wiser and know that there's no such thing as a "base tan"---it's all just sun damage, which shows up on your face, your lips, your chest, your butt, etc. My catalyst for change was a visit to the Outer Banks one summer. I got such a burn on my face that my forehead was literally swollen, painful and puffy. Once the burn subsided, I had a permanent "mask" on my forehead and around my eyes. It literally took several years before I was able to fade it. Fortunately, I gave up tanning and hopefully I didn't sustain permanent damage. I do visit my dermatologist once a year for a full body check to make sure I don't have any pre-cancerous spots. Regardless of the time of year or the amount of sun shining, I'm never without sunscreen on my face, hands and chest. If I'm on vacation or at the beach/pool, I wear full on sun block all over my body (and a good self tanner!).

Fortunately, I have "good genes" and don't have many wrinkles on my face or body. Rest assured, though, that had I not stopped sunbathing, I would look far different and as I age, my chances of developing skin cancer would be higher. It could still happen, but I'm taking every precaution that I can to prevent it.

Look Towards Your Parents to See What the Future May Hold

I consciously did this about eight years ago. What I saw were my (relatively) healthy 75+ year old parents beginning to have mobility issues due to their weight and lack of exercise (no real exercise for years). My father had also had his first heart attack at age 50 due to obesity and smoking 5 packs of cigarettes per day (yes, that really is true). Fortunately, he stopped "cold turkey" that day but in his 70s he had many cardiovascular issues that resulted in surgery after surgery. Honestly, he's lucky to be alive today. Today, my father is fine from a cardio standpoint (but he's still heavy and doesn't exercise) but his real problem is constant pain due to a massive amount of arthritis in any joint that hasn't been replaced. Mom also has arthritis due to long term lack of exercise and age. This disease has seriously impacted their quality of life and isn't something that anyone should go thru.

My Lap Band

This one may be controversial to some but was a direct result of looking at my parents "old age" health. I had lap band surgery in late 2007 and it was the best thing I have ever done for my health and well being. Obesity has been a part of my life for almost my whole life. Literally, the only time I didn't have a weight problem was when I was a child under 5 years old and the years that I suffered from Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia. Actually, with Bulimia, my weight could swing wildly week by week. The eating disorders weren't under control until I separated from my first husband. I think that by that time, I had done so much damage to my body that I really had no idea how to eat. So, for the next twelve years, my weight swung wildly as I comforted myself with food and then starved myself when I had had enough. By the time I had my surgery, I had a pretty good idea of what my triggers were and was successfully controlling them but I still needed help losing weight. Willpower was not my issue at all---I have incredible willpower and can starve myself with the best of them. But I couldn't "live" that way and actually enjoy my life; there was always an inner panic and anxiety that the weight would come back.

The lap band has helped me maintain a 100 lb weight loss thru many emotional ups and downs (something that would have been impossible before). It has minimized most of my cravings. For instance, I no longer crave bread, fast food, soft drinks, etc. I am satisfied very easily now and really never overeat. Now, it has been a LOT of work and I had to make changes early on that have become part of my life (no bread, no "drinking" of calories, protein first, etc). I've lost my desire to drink sweet drinks (in fact, I'm repulsed by sweet drinks and only have a soda maybe once a year), I drink maybe one glass of wine per month and find it very easy to control my portions. My sweet tooth is only a fraction of what it was and it doesn't dominate my thoughts. I eat very little meat and a lot of vegetables because my tastes have changed and that's a good thing!

I'm not skinny by any means; in fact, my doctor wants me to continue to lose weight. Some people may say that my lap band hasn't "worked" because I'm not thin. As far as I'm concerned, though, it has been a huge success and has greatly benefited my health and my life.

Demand Answers From Your Healthcare Providers

About two years ago, I knew that I was having some sort of health crisis. I had been extremely tired for so long (for at least a year to two years prior), my hair was falling out, my nails were breaking, I was depressed and downright miserable. It was all I could do to get thru a work day, let alone be there for my family. The final straw was during a one month period, I literally gained fifteen pounds with no change in diet. By that time, I was a mess! Up to that point, I pretty much only saw my OB/GYN so I didn't have a primary care doc. My husband liked his doctor and while he wasn't taking new patients, there was a doc in his practice who was so I made an appointment with her. Since I'm pretty self aware and wanted to clearly describe my symptoms to the new doctor, I prepared notes and brought them with me to the appointment. But instead of the doctor (since when are women such dolts??!!) listening to my symptoms and putting together a systematic approach to diagnosis, she told me, "You're just depressed and you eat too much!" Her dismissive tone and lack of empathy enraged me so I immediately "fired" her as my doctor and found another one.

My new doctor not only listened to me, but she also put together a plan to try to figure out what in the heck was going on. It took 9 months to come up with a diagnosis. What looked like a thyroid problem was actually narcolepsy! And once I started treatment, I quickly lost the fifteen pounds and I was back to my old self. So the moral of this story is, if your doctor doesn't listen to you, find a new one who will. And then insist that they diligently work with you to diagnose and treat the problem.

 Don't Get Sucked in to all the Hype

In beauty and skin care, there is no such thing as a miracle. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. For instance, there is nothing that you eat or apply topically that can permanently make wrinkles go away. Literally the only thing that can do that is cosmetic surgery. There are certain topical creams (like Retin A, for example) that can reduce the look of wrinkles over time as well as active ingredients that can, with constant use over a long period of time, help increase the skin's elasticity, thereby potentially making lines and wrinkles less prominent. But there is no miracle cure.

Another thing you should know is that cosmetic companies can basically make any claims they want in their advertising copy. The only country (that I know of) that prohibits this is the United Kingdom. They have laws against advertising that makes impossible claims and where it shows up a lot is in pictures that are airbrushed to oblivion. So the next time you see a picture where a fifty year old woman has literally no "tear troughs" or any variance of color under the eyes and the ad claims that this is due to a "miracle" product, just know that this is against the law in the UK but fair game everywhere else.

I saw an example of this today that made my blood boil. In a few weeks, a well known cosmetics company is releasing a "revolutionary" line of skincare products that includes a small tub of lip balm that retails for $50 (really???). Although I couldn't get hold of the ingredients list, it was compared favorably to another $50 lip balm (from another well known brand) whose ingredients I was able to get hold of. The first ingredient? Petrolatum. That's VASELINE people!  One of the cheapest cosmetic ingredients (and not a great one at that) on the face of this earth! Sure, there were some minute quantities of essential oils in the formula but you're basically getting vaseline that has been stabilized by wax. AND PAYING $50 FOR IT!!!

OK, end of rant. It just kills me how stupid some companies think we are.  So don't get sucked in to all the hype. Just don't.

Wear Clothing That Fits

This sounds like a no-brainer but how many times have you seen a woman wearing pants that are too tight. Or too long/short. How about someone whose breasts jiggle and overflow the top of her bra so that you can see it when she's wearing a tshirt or sweater? Or maybe a button down shirt that gaps across the chest? Now, I'm not saying I've never been guilty of these things (because I have). What I'm saying is that as we get older, we owe it to ourselves to make sure our clothes actually fit our bodies. No one actually looks thinner by wearing clothing a size (or two) too small. Trying to cover up in baggy clothes only makes one appear heavier. So take a friend with you when trying on clothes if you need an unbiased second opinion. Always fit the widest part of your body and then have the clothing altered. For me, it's usually my hips. When I purchase pants, if I can choose a "curvy" style, I do that and usually my jeans don't need tailoring (I love Lucky Sofia cut jeans!). If the jeans or pants aren't curvy, I will then fit the pants to my hips and then usually have a huge gap in the waistline, which then requires alteration. My motto: find a good tailor!

The other thing you can do is pay attention to which lines fit you the best. I've already told you about my Lucky Sofia jeans but I also love Dobbin Clothing (amazing quality fabrics and impeccable fit), some of the Talbots line, Lands End for tshirts, and Pendleton for suits.

Another must---get yourself professionally fitted for a bra. Wearing a correctly sized bra can take ten pounds off. Apparently a huge percentage of women wear the wrong size (the wrong size by a huge margin) and therefore look frumpy or unkempt. Most department stores offer this service as do all bra stores. Do yourself a favor---try it just one time. You won't be sorry!!


Now this is one where I'm not currently practicing what I preach. For quite a long time, I was a regular yoga practitioner---four to five times per week. During that period, my core muscles were the strongest they've ever been and I had no back pain. For various reasons, I stopped my practice and lower back problems came back with a vengeance. My back issues are purely muscular and completely within my control. Unfortunately, I haven't taken my own advice (yet) and started back up. But I WILL!!!

Not only does a regular cadence of sun salutations (I was doing "flow" yoga) improve the core strength, it also helps stress levels. I can't tell you how many times I entered the studio really stressed out or pissed off, only to feel calm, cool and collected at the end of a strenuous yoga workout. For those of you who have shied away from yoga due to a perceived "religious" context, that couldn't be further from the truth. In Western society, yoga exercise is not taught as part of a spiritual practice (unless you're specifically looking for that); in fact, yoga for the "masses" is about exercise, stress relief or relaxation (depending on the type of yoga). So give it a try! It's well worth it! And a word about yoga---you don't have to be thin, or flexible or in shape to start. The key to yoga is to work at your own pace and no one is going to pressure you to do anything other than that. As you attend more classes, you'll find that you're just a little more flexible, stronger and able to do some things that you thought you'd never be able to do because of "the weight." Well guess what? "The Weight" doesn't mean anything in yoga class. When I did my first head stand (at the same weight I am now), I was amazed but I knew then that anything was possible!

I could go on and on about even more things that I've discovered to be great for my health and beauty. What things have you done that have been a major impact in your life? Is there anything you're planning to try but just haven't done it yet? Please share!