Food, Mood and Lifestyle: A Matter of Balance


You’ve just set a goal that once and for all you’re going to start eating better, even drop some pounds in the process. So it’s kick that snack attack, forget the fries, can the cookies… first thing tomorrow.


Actually, simple shifts in selecting and preparing food can enable you to cope with stress, strengthen your immune system, eliminate cravings and smooth out your moods. First, comprehend that no single diet, from vegetarianism to Dr. Atkins, no ideal food exists that will work for everybody. “The proper diet is what’s proper for the individual,” says Grace Justiss, a holistic health counselor based in Orange Park. “There are as many roads to health as there are people.” Although eighty percent of the calls St. Augustine-based nutritionist Jackie Shank receives are regarding weight loss, each client means “you take a person and start over,” she says.

Next, “fragmented foods” are the cause of many of our dietary woes. Fragmented foods are fast foods or convenience foods: highly processed and laden with white flour, white sugar and unhealthy fats as well as “lite” foods that go heavy on pseudo sweeteners plus other synthetic ingredients to extend shelf life or create “mouth-feel.”


“When you’re eating fragmented foods your thinking is fragmented,” observes Justiss. For more than 25 years she has started her clients — many of them seriously ill in the beginning — on the path toward achieving health through eating whole-foods by taking down their life stories and creating what she calls a “roadmap for where they want to go.” Underlying virtually all of the immune disorders she encounters, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus and fibromyalgia and their accompanying brain-fogs are candida yeast infections. Candida is known to run rampant when there is excessive white sugar and high-gluten flour in the diet.

“We’re always under allergen attack, fogged-out from the high gluten in our diets,” says Millie Barnes of Ponte Vedra, who coaches weight loss and lifestyle management. “Gluten is a mucoid fiber that many have no ability to digest,” she notes. It is widely used, notably in the baked goodies we crave.

“We are using it as anesthesia,” Barnes continues. “People are getting an average of fifteen to twenty servings a day, often three to four in each meal.” What we cannot digest cannot give us nourishment. “Because we’re malnourished, we then crave fats,” she says, adding, “What we’re really craving is depth of nutrients.”


Partly to blame, according to Shank, is the Food Pyramid, which says we need six to eleven servings of bread, rice, cereal and pasta daily. “That’s way too much,” she says. Shank’s preferred yardstick is the Glycemic Index, which measures how fast individual foods raise blood sugar. “If you’re eating high-GI foods, they turn to sugar quickly in the body.” High sugar intake increases insulin production, and that can lead to more body fat.

To get past the white stuff, Justiss offers several alternatives: brown rice syrup, raw honey, maple syrup and stevia powder or extract. All take longer for the body to break down, avoiding the “quick hit now, crash later” syndrome.

When time is tight, use high-quality convenience foods like quick-cooking brown rice, suggests Justiss, pointing out, “Variety is essential.” Vary the flavors, cooking methods (steaming, broiling, sauteeing, baking), textures and colors. “If you do that, you will find balance,” Justiss states.
Barnes has her clients drop dairy products the first month, another source of allergens for many, and add lots of greens. The kids get started on fruit smoothies. Over the next two to three months the family graduates to seafood. “Six weeks later, you’re sleeping better and there are no more circles under your eyes,” she says enthusiastically.

Shank says she changed the direction of her practice when she realized “the profound effect of food on how we feel.” Her foremost question to new clients is, “Are you eating normally?” She finds that many are not eating normally, especially women in their forties to fifties who have been dieting for years.

A licensed nutritionist and dietitian for fifteen years, she sees a typical pattern: light foods and diet Coke, nibbling throughout the day. When this routine is constant, she notes, people are not responding to brain chemicals signaling the need to eat, especially carbohydrates, and “this sets them up for a food frenzy in the evening.” When the signal peaks at five a.m., Shanks suggests giving the brain its favorite food source — carbs.

This could be a bowl of oatmeal with a little honey. “Doing things like that wards off trouble later,” she says, adding that if we don’t respond because we’re into a high protein diet, a late day binge is inevitable. Shanks begins with creating a “whole health diet” with simple recipes slanted toward fish, whole grains and plenty of fresh vegetables.


Truly, “kids, stress, work are obstacles,” she says, describing “busy mom who goes through the day taking care of everyone’s needs but her own. She needs to learn coping skills.” As a self-awareness practice, Shanks suggests keeping a “food and mood” journal of what you’re thinking and feeling when you start and finish eating.

“People who are stuck in diets are afraid to go out and eat in public. They can’t let go of shame,” observes Lori Osachi, director of The Body Image Counseling Center (BICC), which opened in Jacksonville two years ago. The center is a place to figure out if you’re emotionally overeating, bingeing or purging — to find out why you feel bad about your body. Emotional overeating is one way of “numbing out” problems or pain that’s often rooted in traumatic events long past. Eating, like drinking or smoking, is a form of comfort.

Though a team approach, BICC’s therapists offer positive support. “Women in this culture are bombarded with negative influences, from the supermodels who dominate the magazines to supercritical family members, Osachi believes. One of the most successful treatment modalities she has found over the past decade is group therapy. Another is to limit media intake.

Wellness consultant Niki Lamont’s strategy lies in coaching or partnering with clients to strengthen their “understanding, awareness, observation, choice and outcome” in relation to food. When clients see Lamont at Alternative Wellness Center, she assists them in forging a new agreement with themselves: “They’re going to control food and drink.” In this way, she says, they can get past the sense that having tried and failed at diets. As Lamont puts it, “If the diet is the control and the willpower is weak, then diet goes out the window.” Lamont draws on a variety of protocols from hypnotherapy to Energy Psychology, a group of methods which can vary from client to client.

Holistic nurse Mary Cenci also addresses the issues behind the choices. “You can make good takeout choices if you have no time,” she says. Cenci, whose practice is based in Jacksonville, wants to know what drives or motivates the client to eat certain foods at certain times. “When stressed, do you still reach for candy, sugar or the bread basket in restaurants?”


People will eat to comfort, soothe, entertain or tranquilize themselves when they’re happy or unhappy, stressed or bored, Cenci observes. She has enabled clients to eliminate long-held cravings for chocolate and other guilt-ridden food choices in anywhere from one to five sessions through Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). EFT is composed of placing the fingers at points on certain of the body’s meridians (as mapped by the Chinese some 5,000 years ago) and using affirmation statements. By clearing the emotional drivers that make up self-sabotage, Cenci’s clients won’t find themselves backsliding next time they’re caught in stressful situations at home or work.

Clearly, many forms of loving guidance exist to get us past those obstacles to healthier, happier eating. So next time you hear that pint of Rocky Road calling your name as you walk by the fridge, remember this: you don’t have to answer.

Fitness Fun Factor


For some women, fitness fun may sound like an oxymoron. Where is the pleasure in logging miles on a treadmill? What’s exciting about crunches and lunges?

Unfortunately, without finding a way to enjoy working out, the odds of sticking to an exercise regimen are low.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, adults should get at least two and a half hours of moderate physical activity a week. Before you start grumbling, read the fine print in the agency’s 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans: “Physical activity is any form of exercise or movement of the body that uses energy.” No treadmills or health club memberships required! That means you can get physical doing activities you actually like.

“Enjoying your fitness routine is vital to long-term success and maintenance,” says Melissa Arnold, a personal trainer and programs director at The High Intensity Training (HIT) Centers. ”When we are enjoying an activity we are more likely to make it part of our lifestyle routine than a part of our To Do list.”

There are countless ways to create a more vigorous lifestyle. Jazz things up with a new piece of equipment, sign up for a new class, join a team or indulge in one of many outdoor activities.

The latest and greatest in exercise gear

In 2002, more than $4 billion was spent on home fitness equipment. As companies develop new products to tap into this market, the boon for consumers is a constant stream of new and exciting gear.

Topping the list of innovative fitness products is technology-based “exergaming.” Exergames are video games that incorporate exercise, such as Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution and Nintendo Wii Fit. The Wii Fit monitors body statistics while offering yoga, balance, strengthening and aerobic games such as slalom skiing and hula hoop.

Other fitness products are designed to enhance traditional exercise like aerobic dance, calisthenics and weight lifting such as the dome-shaped BOSU® Balance Trainer, oval polymer gliding discs and cast iron cannon-shaped kettlebells.

Technology is making workouts more fun. Waterproof cases and headphones make it possible to listen to iPods while swimming or surfing, and one company even manufactures an underwater MP3 player. For runners, Nike+ is fast becoming the leading trend in high-tech gadgetry. The Nike+ sensor, which fits into a special slot in the bottom of certain Nike running shoes, communicates with a computer-compatible reader or an iPod Nano, allowing individuals to upload distance, pace, time and calories burned.

A new class of fitness

Gyms and fitness instructors know that diversity and novelty are two ways to keep clients coming back. They also know that group settings offer a supportive environment and an opportunity to meet new friends. Most facilities continually expand and change their lineup of classes.
There are several trends popping up in fitness classes around the nation, including group personal training, different types of yoga, circuit training, boot camps, cycling and active aging exercise. Choreography has been popular for years, ranging from hip hop to belly dancing.


“Dance brings an element that’s so exciting,” says Beth Handline, a fitness instructor and co-owner of Dance Trance Fitness. “Fitness becomes a side element.”

Dance prevents boredom by challenging participants to learn new steps. It is socially rewarding, and it provides an outlet for creativity and personal expression, Handline says. Many women also find it to be a great stress reliever, as focusing on the music and movement chases away thoughts of work, family and other responsibilities.

Zumba is the latest dance craze. These routines feature interval training sessions with fast and slow Latin rhythms. Developed by celebrity fitness trainer Beto Perez in the mid-1990s, Zumba blends toning and sculpting with the fat-burning efficiency of aerobics. According to, there are almost 200 Zumba classes within 25 miles of Jacksonville.

The team mentality of fitness

Many a woman recollects the pride and camaraderie of participating in organized sports as a youth or teen. Whether it was tennis, bowling, basketball, softball, soccer or golf, team sports are still a great option for getting out there and having fun.


“It pushes you to your personal limits in a fun, competitive way,” says personal trainer Melissa Arnold. “The team environment is also another positive component of sport: You are not doing it alone, which keeps you accountable, and it is motivating and fun.”

Terri Wright, 45, of Fernandina Beach, became an avid golfer about two years ago when a career change afforded time for lessons and league play. Three times a week she is on the greens. She says the physical activity of the game has improved her muscle tone, agility, flexibility and weight management. “I’m not a person who likes to work out,” Wright says. “Someone can call me and within the hour I’ll be ready to walk six miles on the golf course, but the treadmill is torture.”

Swimming is another athletic activity with wide appeal. “Everyone can swim, no matter their fitness level,” says Joani Maskell, swimming instructor and owner of Swimming Safari Swim School. “It can make you feel like you can really move. You can do a lot more in the water than you can on land.”

Swimming isn’t limited to doing laps. For something different, try water aerobics, walking in water, water polo, diving, synchronized swimming or adding props such as foam noodles, kick boards, ankle and wrist weights, steps or balls.

Maskell adds that the tactile experience of being in water helps women to connect with their bodies, building self-confidence and helping them feel more comfortable within their own skins.

Fun under the Jacksonville sun

Living in Florida provides year-round access to water and land-based activities. Jacksonville’s Riverwalk, along the north and south banks of the St. Johns River, provides an urban setting for walkers, runners and bikers. For nature enthusiasts, there are a number of local parks with paved and unpaved trails including Little and Big Talbot Island State Parks, Crystal Springs Road Park, Fort Caroline National Memorial and Tree Hill Nature Center.


If your fitness routine is usually based indoors, take your workout to the waterfront. A number of businesses rent bicycles and other water equipment like surfboards, boogie boards, snorkel sets and kayaks. For novice water sport fans, tour guides and instruction are also available.

Jody Hetchka, co-owner of Kayak Amelia, has been teaching the basics of kayaking for more than thirteen years. “It’s like any new sport,” she says. “You’re not going to be perfect the first time. There’s a technique to doing it the right way.” An afternoon spent on the water will work out abdominal and lateral muscles, as well as arms and shoulders. Serious fitness buffs who want more of a challenge can surf the ocean waves or paddle against the current. Either way, it’s a definite change of pace from the treadmill.

Today’s woman has many demands on her time and energy, so any activity she doesn’t enjoy is likely to get pushed to the bottom of her list. By exploring ways to make fitness fun, you are more likely to get active and stay active. And that feels good.

Find Your Fitness Fun Factor

“If you go out with the attitude that all exercise does is help you lose or control your weight, then the actual therapeutic value of exercise is lost,” says Melissa Arnold, a personal trainer and programs director at The High Intensity Training (HIT) Center. “Making working out fun requires something different for everyone.”

Try these suggestions to transform your fitness routine from a work-out to a fun time out.


Create short-term, managable goals that focus on the process, not the outcome. Instead of aiming to lose twenty pounds, strive to get outdoors three times a week or learn a new skill like kayaking.
Move with meaning: Get involved with a 5K fundraiser or charity bowl-a-thon.
Spend some time analyzing what types of activities you enjoy. If you like socializing and making new friends, a class or group setting might be a good choice. If you’re competitive and athletic, join a team or league. If your life is hectic and busy, a solitary walk or meditative yoga might appeal.
Buddy up. Working out with a friend provides encouragement and accountability.
Commit to trying one new activity each month.

If you need just one more reason to get active, consider these facts:

By age 65, people who have not engaged in regular exercise may lose up to eighty percent of their muscle strength.
If you are 25 pounds overweight, you have almost 5,000 extra miles of blood vessels through which your heart must pump blood.
Research shows that regular exercise can improve your mood and enhance your overall sense of well being.
Experts report that working out in increments as brief as ten minutes can pay off. Logging thirty minutes of moderate activity five days a week can help you look and feel better as well as cutting your risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

The top recreational activites for women are walking, aerobics, exercise, biking, jogging, basketball, lifting weights, golf, swimming and tennis.