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The dumpster lid creaked when I hefted it over my head. I started to throw in my plastic bag of garbage, but then I stopped. Under the dumpster lid, the cardboard box from a 24-can soda pack perched on a mound of bagged garbage. I snagged the cardboard from the dumpster and ripped the UPC bar code from the corner before tossing the box back into the dumpster and adding my garbage bag to the pile.

All that summer I saved soda-case UPC's. I bought boxes and boxes of soda cans and carefully clipped off the bar code squares. By the twisted logic of marketing campaigns, I was eager to spend money on soda just to collect the UPC codes and trade them for a free duffle bag bearing the soda company logo. It made sense at the time.

It also made sense to save calories by drinking the diet soda version, sweetened with the chemical aspartame.  After drinking one can of diet soda, I usually had a headache. After drinking two cans, I experienced a buzzing dizziness and blurry vision. I kept drinking, rationalizing that I was enjoying calorie-free soda and earning a free duffle bag.

"Be aware of how food makes you feel," advises Meg, Health Coach for the Dr. Sears' LEAN Nutrition and Wellness Institute. "Explain to your children, 'I ate too much ice cream, and now I have a stomachache.' When we set an example of wanting to feel good, kids will learn that what they eat affects the way they feel."

Meg identifies three food additives we should avoid when making food choices.

IMG_0391High Fructose Corn Syrup is used to sweeten hundreds of foods we find in the grocery store. Corn syrup does not trigger the hormone leptin, which controls appetite; so when we eat foods containing corn syrup, we still feel hungry and will overeat. I found corn syrup lurking in several of the foods in my pantry, including "healthy" cereal, crackers, salad dressing, and even soup.

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Hydrogenated Oils have a long shelf life, so are used in many processed and fast foods. Hydrogenated oils make our cell membranes rigid so our calls cannot grow and function properly. They can cause heart disease, diabetes, and cancers. Hydrogenated oils are often disguised on food labels as "trans fats" or "shortening."

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Food Additives and Colors, like aspartame, MSG, food colorings and preservatives, are called "excitotoxins" because they alter brain chemistry. Ingesting chemical additives can lead to behavior and learning disorders and long-term neurological diseases. Chemical additives are common in prepared, boxed foods and my habitual diet soda.

The best way to avoid food additives is to avoid eating prepared, boxed foods. Choose foods with only a few, natural ingredients. Buy fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and dairy. Learn to cook from scratch and prepare your own homemade snacks and baked goods.

"The better you feel, the easier it is to make the financial sacrifice and buy real, natural foods," Meg advises. "You will see the benefits."

The Dr. Sears website features tips for smart grocery shopping and guidelines for avoiding food additives and chemicals.

My diet soda habit ended when I got tired of the headaches and weird side effects. The free duffle bag didn't last much longer, but ended up in the pile of another apartment dumpster.

How do you avoid foods with added ingredients and chemicals? How do you teach your children to eat healthful, nutritious meals?

 

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The doors sighed open, sounding as tired as I felt. We passed the checkout lane where the cashier leaned against her conveyor belt and yawned. We passed the cooler where the eggs and yogurt displayed the bright colors of their packaging.

I pursued a single purpose, the only goal that could lure me out of bed to dress and drive to the grocery store this early on a Sunday morning: donuts.donuts-268250_960_720[1]

I craved golden, glazed donuts with the flaky white icing that disintegrates when bitten. I let my daughter choose the most attractive package from the bakery shelf while I selected bottled orange juice and instant coffee. Then my daughter and I moved to the cash register where the cashier drowsily pushed buttons and squashed our donuts into a bag.

"It's not realistic to eliminate all sugar," says Meg, Health Coach for the Dr. Sears LEAN lifestyle and nutrition program. "Telling children that sugar is off-limits does them a disservice, because it's impossible to avoid sugar entirely. It's our job as parents to teach balance, to help children learn to use tools and make good choices."

sign-256533_960_720[1]Meg recommends Dr. Sears' "Traffic Light Eating" as one tool to teach our children. Dr. Sears describes food as falling into three colorful categories that help children make good choices.

"Green Light Foods" are "Go Foods" that provide energy and promote growth. Greed Foods can be eaten as much as we like and include: fruits and vegetables, eggs and yogurt, milk and cheese, nuts and seeds, lean meat and fish.

"Yellow Light Foods" are "Slow Down Foods" that can be enjoyed in limited qualities. Yellow Foods include: fatty meats, pasta and white bread, homemade baked goods.

"Red Light Foods" are the "Stop and Think Foods" that demand caution and a careful approach. Red Foods are the prepackaged, store-bought foods, desserts, sugared drinks, and foods with artificial sweeteners and hydrogenated oils.

Red Light Foods are all right once in a while, Meg explained, but we don't want to begin the habit of eating them regularly.

My Sunday morning donuts fall into the Red Light category, all right for an occasional treat, but I had acquired the regular donut habit, and my low energy levels showed it.

Meg references the Sears Wellness Institute for meal ideas and recipes that incorporate more Green Light Foods. The site teaches healthy eating habits and encourages healthy choices. Meg also recommends this site for meal ideas and recipes that use real foods in budget-friendly menus.

Sometimes I miss the delicate melting of glazed donut icing. Sometimes I still prowl the bakery shelves for cinnamon rolls and sugar cookies. More often now, I stop at the coolers of eggs and yogurt. I choose fruit, cottage cheese, and whole grain bread for making crunchy toast.

But the cashier still yawns over the conveyor belt and squashes my bread in the bag.

How have your eating habits changed? What strategies do you use to help your family make healthy choices?

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While I'm enjoying a week of reconnecting with friends and family, please enjoy this repost from my previous blog lizology101.

 

As a young mom I lived in a small town where my job choices were limited. I had no degree, was afraid to work on the factory line, and desperately needed health insurance for my one-year-old.

I applied three times at a bank for three different positions. I made numerous phone calls, endured repeated interviews, and bombed the first two typing tests. When she finally offered me a job at the bank, the HR manager said, "I'm only hiring you because you were so persistent, I knew you really wanted it."

"[People] always ought to pray and not lose heart . . . Shall not God avenge his own elect who cry out day and night to him?" (Luke 18:1, 7).

I believe God sometimes delays his answer to our prayers to test how much we really want our request to be fulfilled. When we keep returning, keep calling, keep trying; God sees we are committed to our purpose. When we persist in bringing our prayers to God, he knows we are relying on him to give us what we need.

What are you praying for today? How have you been persistent in asking for what you need?

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"I can't do it!"

I scrambled onto the platform and wrapped a tight bear hug around the nearest upright post.

"I want to get down now!"

But behind me two women in harnesses and helmets were already clipped into the safety lines and moving my direction.

"There is nowhere to go but forward," the kid on the platform told me, and I knew he was right. Looking around, I could see no secret stairway to the bottom, no easy elevator ride to the wood chips below.

There is nowhere to go but forward.

I slowly put my left foot onto the tightrope. My left knee wobbled while I lowered my right foot to the wire. I felt that at any second both knees would buckle and send me pitching off the line to dangle helpless and unconscious from my harness.

My friends called to me from the ground far below, "You can do it! Just keep moving!"

I couldn't look down. I kept my eyes up and focused on where I needed to plant the next handhold. I proceeded slowly, and eventually established a certain, shuffling rhythm of placing my hands and moving my feet.

Grip left hand. Grip right hand. Slide left foot. Slide right foot.

Inch by inch I worked my way across the wire to the next platform. I still had three more platforms to go, then the big step and sheer drop toward the crowd of cheering bystanders below.

Inch by sickening inch, I crossed that ropes course.

I often feel I shuffle through life the same way. Trembling and uncertain, fearful that any misstep will cause my complete collapse and tumble into helplessness. But I keep moving forward because backward is never an option.

There is nowhere to go but forward.

The rhythm that worked to get me across the ropes course helps me move through life also.

Keep looking ahead. Looking down or backwards only causes overwhelming vertigo. Keep your eyes focused on where your next move needs to be.

Take small steps. Multiple small steps combine to cover great distances. Keep moving, even inches at a time, and eventually you will get where you need to go.

Cheer someone else. Everyone needs to hear that our friends want us to succeed. Encourage others and let them know you believe in their abilities.

At the final platform, I was clipped onto a belay line and told to jump -- just jump -- and trust the rope to lower me safely to the ground. In the end, we're all told to step -- just step -- and trust that God will deliver us to where we feel safe again.

That final leap was a jarring lurch forward and then a jolting, clumsy free-fall toward the ground. The harness left bruises, but I arrived safely and joined the cheerleaders applauding the next woman in line to jump.

What obstacle course are you inching through today? How are you staying focused while you slide your feet along the wire?

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While I'm enjoying a week away with other YoungLives campers, enjoy this repost from my previous blog lizology101.

We waited for an hour, standing barefoot on hot sand, sunscreened against the July glare. When our turn finally came, we stepped into heavy wet harnesses, tightened the waist straps, loosened the thighs.

Then we walked to the other side of the lake, barefoot over grass and gravel, carrying the double-webbed straps with heavy cable clips slung over our shoulders. When we reached the zipline tower, we climbed uncountable steps, up and up and up -- to the top, where we were greeted by a teenaged kid wearing a harness clipped into a spider web of safety lines.

He clipped our harnesses into the web, and again we waited, eye-level with the tree tops. The tower swayed gently in the breeze, just enough to be slightly nauseating. Then came the awareness that we really planned to jump off from here.

"Stand on the box," the kid told us.

We stepped to the edge of the wooden platform, toes hanging off into air. The kid attached our clips to the zipline. He unhooked our safety straps from the web. We stood unsteadily on the edge.

"I can't do it!" my companion called.

"There's nowhere to go but down!" I answered.

I counted, "One, two, three, jump!" but neither of us moved.

I leaned back against the line to put tension in the harness, counted to three again, and lifted my feet.

"Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? . . . If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there your hand shall lead me, And your right hand shall hold me" (Psalm 139:7,9-10).

God always knows where we are, and he is always with us. Nowhere we go can escape the reach of his protection and love.

Sometimes we wait, wondering, for days or months or years for God's call to jump. Sometimes the call comes as a gentle nudge, sometimes a hard shove. At some time God calls each of us to take a big step. Then we have to trust in him and ride the line wherever it goes.

The zipline was a few screaming seconds before splashdown in the cold lake. Kicking, splashing, spitting water, I looked around for my companion.

I heard her beside me laughing, "Let's do it again!"

I pray you have faith to jump eagerly and often. What step is God calling you to take today?

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