In This Issue:
CHAD MORRIS, Ph.D., Director
Happy New Year! In our first newsletter of 2018, we offer a few perspectives on financial wellness. A fitting topic as many of us work to pay off the extra costs that accompany the holidays. I seldom hear a New Year’s resolution to “work on my relationship with money.” Yet money and savings, or the lack thereof, tops the list of stressors for a large proportion of the population. Young adults, older adults, and those already facing societal inequity are often particularly distressed by their financial situation. This has an incredible impact on health, relationships, productivity as well as overall well-being. Part of my personal resolution this year is to find ways to elevate the discussion of financial wellness. It is certainly equal in importance to physical health as well as any other dimension of wellness, and it deserves more attention.
A Study in Wellness
JIM PAVLIK, M.A., Program & Policy Analyst
After hearing so much buzz about intermittent fasting (IF) over the past few years, I decided to give it a go in late September. The tipping point for me was reading Dr. Fung’s The Obesity Code.1 We have read several such books in preparation for and in the aftermath of updating our DIMENSIONS: Well Body group curriculum. While I found the author’s zeal off-putting, much of what he said was enough to convince me that IF sat comfortably within the “Can’t Hurt, Might Help” zone. It was at least as safe as basic calorie restriction (CR)—a diet model I have used successfully in the past to manage my own weight.
Of course, it isn’t all about weight loss. Weight loss is just one symptom of a much larger set of problems that includes circulatory issues, heart disease, diabetes, neurodegeneration and on and on. To Fung, insulin is a factor in all these (and may be the major factor. Fung doesn’t draw this conclusion in the book).
The book was published in 2016, which meant the research in the book was gathered, at the latest, mostly in 2015—and here I was reading the book in late 2017. Nutritional science moves fast. So, I did what I do and I headed to the scientific literature.
As it happens, a systematic review was published on IF in 20172 and, like Fung’s book, focuses primarily on human studies. We also read another review, an earlier one for BHWP’s ongoing journal club,3 which looked at both animal and human studies across a range of conditions. Combined, the two reviews aggregate findings from 229 unique studies.
So, what did they find? My initial feeling that IF was safe—at least as safe as CR—is entirely borne out. In fact, we should probably consider IF a type of CR (more or less). As it has very similar results when compared head-to-head with CR—especially in terms of weight loss and the rate thereof (at least in the short term). On the other hand, Fung brings his own, untested hypothesis in his interpretation of the research. Much of his excitement seems to come from the potential long-term effects of IF; but, this has not been tested in humans (yet). To his credit, there is evidence in the literature that Fung’s hypothesis may be correct.
IF reduces the effects of neurodegeneration, having a beneficial effect on memory and learning. It positively effects mood. It seems to decrease the production of the hormone (IGF-1) that researchers believe is the main culprit in aging. It increases HDL (the “good cholesterol”) and, in many studies, reduces LDL (the “bad cholesterol”). It reduces blood pressure. And perhaps most importantly, it reduces fasting glucose and insulin levels. And, on this last score, it outperforms CR by quite a lot. If Fung’s argument is correct, the outperformance here could be the secret to extending the beneficial effects of CR and/or protein-heavy diets to a longer—perhaps indefinitely long—time horizon.
For my own part, I am down 25 pounds since September 25—and that counts the horrible things I did to myself via cookies over the holidays. Your mileage may vary.
- Fung, J. (2016). The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets to Weight Loss. Vancouver: Greystone Books
- Patterson R.E., & Sears, D.S. (2017). Metabolic effects of intermittent fasting. Annual Review of Nutrition. 37: 371-93.
- Longo, V.D., Mattson, M.P. (2014). Fasting: Molecular mechanisms and clinical applications. Cell Metabolism. 19(2):181-92
Wellness in Practice
CINDY MORRIS, Psy.D., Clinical Director
Whether I’m checking my emails. Or reading an article on the internet. Or playing a game on my smartphone. I’m inundated with opportunities to purchase something. Images of items I have recently shopped for or purchased online show up on webpages in sponsored ads. It’s so easy (too easy) to just click and buy.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being a consumer. There are things that I need to manage my everyday life—groceries, household goods, technology, etc. But it comes to a point when I buy something just to buy it. And when it arrives, I may feel a short-term sense of pleasure or excitement. However, it quickly fades. Until the next purchase. And the next.
I’ll admit I have spent plenty of time searching online for just the right thing, scrolling through pages of items from my favorite shops. It’s easy to get sucked in. It’s also easy to convince myself that it’s something I NEED for…(fill in the blank). But if I’m true to my values, I want to be mindful about how I spend my resources. I would like to put more of my energy towards new experiences rather than new things. And if I am going to spend money on a purchase, I plan to invest in something that improves my quality of life.
So I’m going to do my best to keep myself honest. I want to be particular about how I spend my time and money. When I have the urge to use shopping as a distraction or a way to cope with my daily stress, I intend to take a deep breath and ask myself, “How do I feel? And what do I really want right now?” I’m excited to hear what I have to say. And where my response may lead me.
Resolutions in Harmony
MARY MANCUSO, M.A., Clinical Associate
It’s the New Year and my chance for a new me. Rather than making overly ambitious resolutions in every area of my life that, all too often, leave me feeling defeated, I am approaching behavior change a little differently this year. I have created a budget and a plan to stick to it. After the rent and bills are paid, the groceries and pet supplies purchased, money for gas has been allotted, student loan payment has been sent, a small amount has been set aside in savings, I know exactly how much I have left to spend on miscellaneous items like going out to dinner or buying things on Amazon, and I have it allocated by week. It is going to require discipline and focus to make thoughtful choices.
I am hypothesizing, however, that the awareness and discipline I am applying to my financial wellness will carry over into other areas of behavior change. It will become what Charles Duhigg describes in The Power of Habit as a keystone habit. Keystone habits are habits that are so powerful that once they begin, they can influence and shift other habits. Keystone habits help support accomplishment of goals by creating structures and environments where other habits develop. This creates a snowball effect of many small habit changes that eventually lead to new behavior paradigms.
If my hypothesis is correct, my financial discipline will spill over to other areas of my life. As I am making mindful choices about how I use discretionary income, I will be less inclined to eat out and, instead, spend more time planning and cooking meals from fresh whole foods and eat less processed foods. As I succeed in meeting my financial goals and being more selective and disciplined in monetary and food choices, I can translate these small wins into healthy physical activity and sleep habits. Maybe I’ll even become disciplined enough to practice my cello on a regular basis.
Keystone habits have the power to make Olympians out of athletes or even save lives by making safety an organizational priority. Perhaps today’s commitment to financial conscientiousness will lead to next year’s marathon realization!
Made to Move
DEREK NOLAND, M.P.H., Community Liaison
With the holiday season in the rearview mirror, financial wellness is at the forefront of many people’s minds. Regardless of whether you celebrated a holiday or exchanged gifts, finances are typically in the spotlight as one year ends and a new begins. And unfortunately, for far too many of us, thinking about our financial picture can lead to a great deal of stress and trepidation.
Yes, there are steps we can take to improve the bottom line of our financial wellness. Taking on side work, investing wisely, going back to school, working diligently for a raise, and finding ways to cut back are all valid ways of doing so. That being said, there are limitations to the effectiveness of these strategies as it pertains to the big picture; vastly changing one’s financial situation over a short period of time is not usually realistic. Generally speaking, a long-term approach to improving one’s financial wellness is the most effective and more likely to yield positive results. But, in a society that continues to become increasingly focused on the immediate and present, this approach can contrast with the way we think about most things, and ultimately impact our overall wellness. So, what can we do to navigate this challenge?
My suggestion would be to move our internal concept of financial wellness away from the pressures of society and into a position in better alignment with our own beliefs and needs. We’re constantly bombarded with marketing messages suggesting that we need this or that new device or service, and repeatedly reminded of our collective shortcomings in saving for retirement, all while striving to stay debt free. I propose consciously tuning out all of the hype and immediacy surrounding finances, and instead devising a strategy that fits your own financial reality, while aligning these principles with your overall wellness. Strive for what makes sense in your situation, and shape your financial decision-making to reflect your own values and beliefs. Aligning your financial wellness with your overall wellness may help to alleviate some of the burden that concern for finances can bring, and shift your focus back to the long term big picture.
This is certainly not to say that I believe people should be reckless with their finances, fail to invest for the future, or anything else of this nature. Rather, by recognizing what we truly value and desire, we can make smart decisions about what to prioritize from a financial perspective, what to ignore, and what truly comprises our overall wellness. Financial wellness is an important aspect of one’s life and well-being, but as there’s only so much we can control in this regard on a daily basis, contextualizing our finances and consciously moving them within the realm of our overall wellness is more likely to lead to both short-term happiness and long-term wellness.