Monthly Archives: December, 2012

Have a Healthy Holiday

In the past few weeks, I’ve shared some strategies for eating healthfully and keeping the weight off during the holidays.  However, staying healthy this time of year is about more than just eating right and exercising.  Physical and emotional health both play a part in your overall health status, and the added stress of the holiday season can take a toll on both.  Below are some strategies, courtesy of StayWell Online, to help you stay physically and emotionally healthy during the holidays, and all year long:

  • Don’t do too much. Give yourself some time to relax.
  • Share the workload. Let everyone play an active role; make the holidays a family affair so you’re not burdened with all the work.
  • Establish priorities. You can’t do everything; say no to some demands on your time.
  • Simplify your life. Be less elaborate this year. Relax your housekeeping and holiday preparations.
  • Continue to exercise. Don’t let your regular regimen lapse.
  • Eat healthy foods and limit your consumption of high-fat holiday treats. Serve healthy fare at your family’s holiday party.
  • Ask yourself if you really enjoy all the rituals or whether they have merely become habits. Try adopting less elaborate traditions of holidays past.
  • Don’t be afraid to scale down gift giving. You’ll probably receive a lot of support.
  • If your annual party is too much to handle, postpone it until after the holidays when you have more time to prepare. This also will help alleviate post-holiday letdown by giving you something fun to anticipate.
  • If you are unable to be with your family, get out around people. Plan to be with friends or volunteer to help others who also may be separated from their families.

The holidays can certainly be stressful, but it’s important not to let stress get the best of you.  Employ some of these strategies and enjoy the season as much as you can.

The WellMASS blog will be taking a break for the holidays, and will be updated again the first week of January.  Here’s wishing you the happiest of holidays, and a healthy new year!


Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Chicken/Turkey Stock

By Guest Blogger Frances S. Garst, GIC

My mother taught me how to do this many years ago, saying that it was full of protein and minerals and good for the joints.

Whenever I have roast chicken or turkey, I put the leftover bones, skin, and other scraps into a large plastic ziplock  bag in the freezer. I will also put in scraps of onion, celery and carrot.

When I want to make a stock, I will buy some chicken necks, backs, and/or wings. If I can’t get those I try to get thighs on sale. If I am making a turkey stock, I buy turkey parts.

To begin:  Take your largest, deepest roasting pan and coat the chicken parts with a little canola oil. The number of pieces will depend on how much stock you want. I completely cover the bottom of the pan in one layer, because I make large amounts at one time. Put the chicken parts in the pan and roast at 375 degrees until they are a deep, rich brown.  Turn the pieces over and brown the other side. Do not allow them to burn.

Now you can either make the stock in the oven, on the stove top, or in a crockpot. (See below for stovetop/crockpot directions.)

I make mine in the oven because I make over a gallon at a time. Pull the roaster out of the oven and set it on top of the stove. Use tongs or a wooden spoon to pull the chicken or turkey pieces loose from the bottom of the pan. They may stick, but don’t worry about that. Add one to three sliced onions, depending on size and how much stock you are making. Also add some celery stalks and some carrots, cleaned and cut into chunks. If you like garlic, add a few peeled cloves, to taste. Sometimes I add mushrooms or mushroom stems. I season mine with a large handful of fresh parsley, about a tablespoon of whole pepper corns, two or three bay leaves, and about a teaspoon of salt – less if you are making a small amount. You need some salt, but not too much. You can always add more later. Omit the salt if you are on a sodium-restricted diet. 

Next, add a glass of white wine to the pan. If you do not have white wine, use a couple of tablespoons of white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar. This is important, because the acidity in the wine or vinegar helps to draw out the calcium and minerals, and dissolve the cartilage. The cartilage is good for your joints, or so said my mother. 

Now add the leftover chicken from the freezer. Fill the pan about halfway to two-thirds full. Pull the middle rack of the oven out and set the roasting pan on it. Pour in boiling water very carefully! Fill the pan to about two or three inches from the top. Cover the pan with either with the roaster lid or heavy duty aluminum foil. Carefully slide the rack back into the oven and let simmer at 225 degrees for several hours. I often do mine overnight.

The stock is done when the cartilage is gone from the end of the bones, and when the end of a smaller bone will break off when pressed against the side of the pan.

Strain the stock through a strainer into a large pot. Cool and refrigerate overnight. The fat will rise in a thickened layer and you can spoon it all off. You can make fat-free stock this way. If you had enough bones in the pan, the stock will have a thick, gelatinous texture when cold (almost like jello) and will give a velvety smooth mouth feel to the food you make with it.

According to my mother, the vitamins in the vegetables probably did not survive the long cooking, but we were looking for the protein and minerals, and the deep, rich flavor this process would give to the stock. If you want a light, more delicately-flavored broth, skip the roasting step.

I use my stock as a base for soups, gravies and pan sauces. What I do not use right away, I put into the freeze in one or two cup containers, to use as needed. 

I immediately start freezing the roast chicken and turkey bones for the next batch. 

Stovetop/Crockpot Directions

Take the roasted poultry and put into your largest pot or stockpot. If there are brown bits stuck to the bottom, deglaze the pan with some water and pour it into the pot. Scale back the amounts, but put all the same things in. You do not want your pot to be more than halfway to two-thirds full. Add boiling water up to two or three inches from the top – you do not want this to boil over. In a crockpot, just set it on low and leave it for several hours or overnight. On the stove, bring it to a low simmer and stir it with a wooden spoon. Do not let the bottom burn. Strain as instructed above.

Margaret Byrne Stepped It Up With WellMASS

Last year, the GIC’s Margaret Byrne decided to take control of her health by embarking on a quest to lose weight, change her unhealthy eating habits, and feel better overall.  She started by joining Weight Watchers and exercising with her husband, and within a few months she lost weight, her clothes fit a little better, and she was happier with the way she looked and felt.  Her initial success inspired her to continue improving her health by participating in the WellMASS wellness program.  Margaret took the online Health Assessment and actively participated in this fall’s Step It Up! walking campaign, which has since motivated her to walk every chance she gets:

Since participating in the WellMASS Step It Up! campaign, I walk as much as possible.  For example, I no longer take the escalator when I get off at the train station; instead I use stairs and walk during my lunch hour.  On the days I don’t exercise, my husband and I do a three-mile walk around our neighborhood, which I probably never would have thought of doing if I didn’t participate in the WellMASS Step It Up! campaign.


Margaret Byrne before Weight Watchers and WellMASS

Margaret Byrne before Weight Watchers and WellMASS


Margaret Byrne after - 30 pounds lighter and much happier with her health!

Margaret Byrne after – 30 pounds lighter and much happier with her health!

Since last October, Margaret has lost 30 pounds and lowered her cholesterol levels.  As evidenced by her “before and after” photos, she looks and feels great.  She is still actively participating in Weight Watchers and the WellMASS program; her ultimate goal is to maintain a healthy lifestyle and never return to her unhealthy eating habits, and she is certainly on the right track.If you have a WellMASS success story like Margaret’s, I’d love to hear about it.  If you need a little help in your journey to become healthy, you can follow in her footsteps by going to the WellMASS website and taking your online Health Assessment, which will give you a snapshot of your overall health and suggestions and resources on how to improve it.

The WellMASS Weight Loss Challenge is Coming

The holiday season is in full swing, which usually means lots of eating, drinking, and being merry.  Indulging in all of the treats of the season can easily pack on extra pounds, leaving you feeling a little bit heavier in 2013.  It’s admittedly very hard to maintain or lose weight during this time of year, but the start of a new year provides a great opportunity to work hard to lose the pounds you gained during the holidays, and then some, by making a New Year’s resolution to eat right, exercise more, and achieve your weight loss goals.  WellMASS is here to help you every step of the way, thanks to a new weight loss challenge toolkit we created to aid state employees in safely losing 1-2 pounds a week for six weeks.  

The challenge will be run on an agency level, and can be done individually or as part of a group.  This means that you’ll receive information about the challenge from your agency’s Wellness Champion or GIC coordinator and can challenge yourself to lose weight on your own or as part of a group of fellow challenge participants within your agency.  By signing up for the challenge, you’ll receive all the tools and information you need to track and achieve your weight loss goals.  The challenge will be open to all state employees, regardless of whether or not they receive their health insurance through the GIC, and more information will be made available to you by your agency’s Wellness Champion or GIC coordinator in early January.  This blog will also have information on the challenge and additional weight loss tips, so make sure to check back regularly.  In the meantime, here are some strategies from StayWell Health Management for keeping the weight off during the holidays:

• Bring a veggie tray to share at a holiday potluck.
• Bake or grill your holiday turkey, instead of deep-frying it.
• Pack healthy snacks when you travel away from home.
• Avoid the goodies your coworkers bring to the office.
• Eat a small slice of pumpkin pie instead of a pie higher in fat.
• Take only one serving of foods you truly enjoy.
• Choose not to eat the gravy on turkey and potatoes.
• Go outside to do yard work for 30 minutes.
• Make a low-fat salad or Jell-O® to share as a side dish.
• Make a sandwich using whole-grain bread instead of white bread.
• Go for three, 10-minute walks during the day.
• Send leftovers home with family and friends – including the pie!
• Serve wine and light beer instead of high-calorie liquors.
• Drink water at every meal.
• Choose something healthy to eat at a fast food restaurant.
• Make sure to eat a nutritious breakfast.
• Skip dessert and late night snacks.

Be Your Own Health Advocate

Staying healthy involves more than just eating right, exercising, managing stress, and quitting unhealthy habits like smoking.  It also involves being an informed patient (by becoming health literate) and standing up for yourself if you feel that you’re not getting the treatment you need (by being your own health advocate).  Jennifer Ingersoll, a DMH employee at Tewksbury Hospital, learned the importance of both health literacy and health advocacy first hand when she experienced a rollercoaster of a journey that ultimately led to her being diagnosed with the endocrine disorder Cushing’s disease.  She has graciously agreed to share her story with other state employees to encourage them to become their own health advocates by using resources such as WellMASS to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment:

“In December 2010 I was finally diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, and I received a life-saving brain surgery in March 2011.  I had a tumor on my pituitary gland that caused extreme weight gain, high blood pressure, skin infections, acne, joint pain, facial hair, depression, headaches, and bone degeneration.  I had suffered symptoms for years only to be told I needed to exercise more, eat less, and that my facial hair was familial.  I gained 30-40 pounds in the three months prior to demanding that I be referred to an Endocrinologist.  I knew something was desperately wrong with me.  I was only eating 900 calories a day and exercising…and I was gaining weight!  I would cry at night in pain and short of breath from the pressure my abdomen was placing on my chest.  I looked like I was pregnant with multiples.  I can recall talking to my nurse practitioner about Cushing’s and the fact that I had symptoms several years prior….only to be laughed at.  That was impossible to her.  Only 1-5 people out of a  million are diagnosed per year with this disease.  I finally demanded to see an Endocrinologist who also thought I was just depressed, or that I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome…until I voiced my concern about Cushing’s and he agreed to do the testing.  It took months to get diagnosed.  Finally I was validated.  I was not crazy!  People always attributed my symptoms to genetics or stress!  Wrong!!!  I was then sent to the MGH Neuroendocrine unit, who also confirmed my diagnosis, and I was whisked off to surgery to find the source ( a tumor) somewhere in my body.  I then had an invasive procedure called Petrosal sinus sampling that confirmed my ACTH was 10900 [Adrenocorticotropic Hormone – normal levels are between 9-52 pg/mL] on the left side of my brain.  My tumor was on the pituitary gland, but the MRI confirmed it was on the right side.  However, they wanted me to wait a month to see the surgeon!  I decided to email the surgeon in desperation and told him my story…I needed help desperately!   Thanks to my email I was scheduled to see him in a week and I was then scheduled for brain surgery within another week.  I was losing my life and death was a possibility.  My 3 boys at home needed their mother. 

The surgery I had was called Transphenoidal brain surgery…pretty scary , but I was out of the hospital in a day, with restrictions.  I was warned “you will feel sicker before you get better,” and it was true.  I was not allowed to bend, lift, or use straws; I lost my ability to taste food;  and I was in horrible pain throughout my body.  I then suffered bleeding near the surgery site and ended up at Mass Eye and Ear, where I had two separate sinus surgeries within 24 hours.  Additionally,, my Adrenal glands did not work at all……making my body’s ability to cope with stress impossible.  This is called Adrenal Insufficiency.  I now am maintained on medications to supplement my low cortisol level.  I fixed one problem to get another, but I was determined to manage and I am.

 My recovery has been very long….. I am here though.  I am a fighter!  It has been more than a year and a half now since my surgeries.  I have lost 79 pounds and I still am recovering.  My Adrenals only partially function and I take daily doses of Prednisone.  I have been back to work for more than a year and continue to monitor and fight for my health.  All I can say is…. you know your body better than anyone.  Always be your own advocate!”

Jen Ingersoll before and after

Jen Ingersoll before and after

 I met with Jen the other day, and she looks great.  However, she is still struggling to return to the way she felt before she got sick.    I hope her story can encourage you to be conscious of your health, and to seek treatment when things appear to be wrong.  WellMASS provides all eligible employees the opportunity to take a free, confidential health assessment that provides a snapshot of your current health and can help guide your future health goals.  The Assessment takes 10 minutes to complete and is an excellent place to start taking control of your own health.

‘Tis the Season for Healthy Potlucks

Holiday parties are ubiquitous this time of year, which can make it pretty hard to follow healthy eating habits given the slew of unhealthy (yet tasty) options found at most office celebrations.  However, I’m here to tell you that there’s a way to avoid total diet sabotage while still making your agency’s holiday party enjoyable.  The secret lies in organizing a healthy potluck. 

Some people equate the word healthy with boring food that doesn’t taste very good.  I admit that sometimes I even find myself thinking that way.  But as the employees of DMH’s Metro North site in Wakefield proved to me yesterday, healthy can be anything but boring and bad-tasting.  Julie Burke and her staff graciously invited me to attend the healthy potluck lunch they were holding after my Lunch ‘n Learn, which featured some of the tastiest food I’ve ever eaten.  I was treated to fresh-cut veggies and red pepper hummus; a savory filled celery appetizer; a delicious salad of dark greens (which are much more nutritious than iceberg lettuce, the standard salad green), cranberries, and sliced almonds; turkey chili with lots of beans (for added fiber and protein); and whole grain lentil soup.  These dishes were filled with the fiber, vitamins, and minerals our body needs for optimal health, and they tasted anything but the stereotypical definition of healthy – they were full of flavor, filling, and showcased unique and exciting ways to serve vegetables and other healthy ingredients.  These were foods you could easily make and eat every day and still feel satisfied.

If your agency or worksite is thinking of ways to make its holiday party a little bit healthier, take a cue from the DMH Metro North site office and organize a healthy potluck.  Ask each employee to bring a dish that features lots of fruits, veggies, legumes, or whole grains and is low in saturated fat and high in either fiber or lean protein.  There’s even room for dessert – try a fruit tray with a variety of dips (caramel, dark chocolate, and a ricotta-based dip are all good options).  If your agency is hosting a healthy potluck this holiday season, I’d love to hear about it and even see pictures.  Here’s to a healthy – and happy – holiday party!

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Carrots

By Guest Blogger Liz Layton, GIC

You know how there are some foods you like, except they always get seem to get stuck in between your teeth?  Popcorn kernels.  Celery strings.  Until now the annoyance of digging out little pieces of carrot stick provided the perfect excuse for avoiding carrots.  But that excuse went poof! today when someone shared homemade carrot soup. It was creamy with a gingery zing and undertones of a great broth.  I’m not enough of a foodie to tell you what all was in it just based on tasting it (see the recipe below), but it turned me around on carrot consumption. More carrot soup please!

Did you know that the first carrots were just about every color except orange?  The popular root vegetable acquired its now familiar color when Dutch horticulturalists developed a new variety for the royal House of Orange.

There are plenty of reasons we’ve been told to eat our carrots – they’re a good source of beta carotene, which turns into vitamin A, which is good for your skin, bones, teeth, and immune system. They also contain the anti-cancer compound falcarinol.  Carrots are high in fiber, and we know why that’s good.  They are low in sodium and low in calories.  And a bag of carrots is one of the least expensive choices in the vegetable bin.     

Studies have found that carrots retain their nutritional strength even when they are cooked.  But don’t chop them before cooking – just peel them and plop the entire carrot in the pot. Carrots retain more nutritional value when they’re cooked whole.  To get you started on enjoying more carrots, here’s the soup recipe.  

Carrot Ginger Soup
6 TBSP (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
|**Healthy substitution for butter – substitute 3/4 teaspoon of olive oil for each teaspoon of butter required in the recipe. There are 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon, which means this recipe calls for 18 teaspoons of butter, so the substitution would be 13.5 teaspoons of olive oil (a little less than ¼ cup). Source: Livestrong
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh ginger root
3 cloves garlic, minced
7 cups Berta’s Chicken Stock
1 cup dry white wine
1-1/2 pounds carrots, peeled
2 TBSP fresh lemon juice
Pinch curry powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Snipped fresh chives or chopped fresh parsley (garnish)

Heat the butter [or olive oil] in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the onion, ginger, and garlic and sauté for 15 to 20 minutes. Add the stock, wine, and carrots. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered over medium heat until the carrots are very tender, about 45 minutes. Purée the soup in a blender or food processor fitted with a steel blade. Season with lemon juice, curry powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with the chives or parsley. Serve the soup hot or chilled. 

Makes 6 portions

 Thanks to Kathy Glynn for the recipe from The Silver Palate Good Times cookbook.