Confess to a close friend that you're experiencing feelings of loneliness, and you'll probably get advice like: "You need to get out more! Join the local spelunking club. Take up swing dancing. Hit the singles scene. Polish up your people skills."
Our two cents? Fuhgeddaboudit. True, an active social life helps protect you from high blood pressure, stress and inflammation. It even raises your odds for surviving breast cancer and waltzing around a heart attack.
But overcoming loneliness and safeguarding your health take more than having something to do on Saturday night. Like true happiness, it's an inside job. Before you place an online personals ad or reconnect with your high-school crush, ask yourself two questions: Do I deserve friendship? Do I think people want to be friends with me?
If you answered "no" to either or both, focus on bolstering your sense of self before you hop on the social merry-go-round. Fixing off-the-wall beliefs about your self-worth does more to overcome loneliness than improving social skills, making connections or just "getting yourself out there."
When you are at ease with yourself and open to others, friendships seem to blossom naturally. And just acknowledging secret self-doubts may develop enough humor and compassion toward yourself to reach out to others, who, underneath, are probably like you: sometimes unsure and shy.
Be a supermarket skeptic
Supermarkets can be a lot like late-night TV: Both are packed with glitzy, convincing come-ons for stuff you didn't need and weren't intending to add to your household clutter. We know you're way too smart to shell out $49.95 for a "4-Second Ab Blaster," but it's a lot easier to add $2.99 crackers that boast being "multigrain." And that adds to body clutter!
Sure, the Food and Drug Administration regulates some claims, such as "low fat," but fewer than you think. Take "low carb": It can mean anything, yet it easily convinces people that many foods are better for weight control than they actually are. Other claims that reflect BS (bad science):
* "Made with real fruit." Have you eaten a lot of fake fruit recently? This phrase can be code for jam-sweetened sugar bombs; check for added sugars and syrups.
* "Whole grains." Keep walkin' down the aisle until you spot "100 percent whole grains" on package labels. You can bet that if it doesn't say 100 percent on the outside, that's not what's inside. As you've guessed (right?), same goes for "multigrain": It almost always sounds better than it is.
* "All natural." Ready for a surprise? There are zero restrictions on using this, except on meat(!), where "natural" means minimally processed.
Super shoppers, grab your reading glasses and scan the Nutrition Facts panel. In addition to 100 percent whole grains, look for 0 percent trans fats, lots more monounsaturated than saturated fats and no added sugars/syrups.
Morning sickness: No sure remedies
Morning sickness just isn't fair. Just when you need to eat smarter and better than ever before, food is about as appealing as a ride on a tilt-a-whirl. You feel sick, get sick and are sick. And who said it only happens in the morning?
When headlines recently announced, "No Cure for Morning Sickness," we heard a nationwide groan from soon-to-be moms. But those reports were a bit misleading: "No cure" doesn't mean "Nothing helps." It means the experts found so many shortcomings in the 27 studies they reviewed that there was no evidence for a "cure."
Excuse us if we're repeating what your mother-in-law has already said, but, "It will get better." Odds are you'll be enjoying breakfast again by week 16 of your pregnancy. Meanwhile, these steps should give you some relief:
* Eat cold foods. Hot food heightens your sense of smell, and odors are stomach-turners.
* Eat 100 percent whole-grain crackers before getting out of bed in the morning.
* Eat a diet that's high in lean proteins, complex carbs and includes brown rice and leafy greens.
* Take vitamin B-6 (10 mg) once a day.
* Sip fresh gingerroot tea or take a ginger supplement (300 mg) once or twice a day.
How much folate do you need?
When was the last time you piled your plate high with spinach, lentils, a nice artichoke and a papaya? Bet the answer is "Never."
Yet that's what you'd need to get the 700 micrograms of folate we suggest. Why 700 mcg, almost twice what the USDA recommends?
The answer is that studies now show 700 mcg a day puts the brakes on hearing loss and helps keep arteries young. It also lowers risky homocysteine, an amino acid that can up the threat of heart disease and maybe dementia.
You're probably getting about 300 mcg of folate in food. That's partly because many foods have been enriched with folic acid (synthetic folate) since the 1990s, when it became clear that folate prevents brain and spinal-cord birth defects. Getting the other 400 mcg is simple: Take a multi.
We're focusing on folate because some experts now say the average person in this folic-acid enrichment age is getting plenty. Nope. Folate levels actually have declined, possibly because many people are eating fewer carbs, including fortified ones.
Unless you eat a lot of spinach, lentils and fortified foods — from pasta to juice — do your body, brain and love life a favor: Take a multi. Half in the morning, half at night, so your levels are stable round the clock.
Watch out for 'the weekend effect'
Kicking back for a couple of days after a long, busy week is a tradition that dates to 1938. That's when Congress set the maximum workweek at 44 hours. Bingo: weekends!
We look forward to weekends as much as anyone. What we're not fond of: The "weekend effect," which typically starts with fried chicken and a movie and trans fat popcorn on Friday night and ends with a snack-filled Sunday spent loafing around.
Before you turn your next 48 hours of downtime into sit-around-and-eat time, contemplate these recently discovered consequences of the weekend effect:
* In a weight-loss study comparing dieters with daily exercisers, it turned out that on weekends, the dieters stopped losing and the exercisers gained enough to put on an extra nine pounds a year!
* On weekends, teenagers are twice as likely to slouch around computers and video games for hours, a sitting overload that leads to weight gain now and diabetes and heart disease later.
The easy fix: healthy snacks (fruit and nuts are no-fuss) and no fast-food meals on weekends. OK, we know that's easy to say, but here's what makes it easy to do: Get active. It's hard to nosh when you're shooting hoops or pushing swings. Cook a meal together. Walking to the store for the ingredients doubles benefit.