The Health Upgrade
Real women have carbs—the healthy kind. Genetics might explain Funess's fear of cereal: New research from Princeton University links the brain chemical galanin to both alcohol and food addictions, and another study from the Royal Ottawa Hospital shows that some alcoholics specifically crave sweets to increase levels of serotonin. "It's not hard to connect the dots," says Peeke. "It wouldn't be surprising that someone with a genetic history of alcoholism is addicted to refined carbs—her biological hardwiring makes her more vulnerable." But healthy carbohydrates such as whole grains, vegetables, and fruit are missing from her diet, which could put her at risk for macular degeneration or diverticulitis, and her higher than normal consumption of protein can deplete calcium from bones, says Peeke. Getting about 15 to 20 percent of calories from protein is optimal for bone health.
Bone up. Since Funess underwent in vitro fertilization to conceive the twins (a possible increased risk factor for ovarian cancer, according to some studies), she gets regular gynecological checkups, including a vaginal ultrasound, but has never discussed calcium supplements with her doctor. (She's not alone: According to a 2004 survey by the National Women's Health Resource Center, 59 percent of women over age 40 have not asked their doctor about their bone health or had a bone-mineral density test.) Peeke recommends a baseline test immediately. Funess should also start taking calcium (1,000 milligrams) and vitamin D (200 IU) supplements. Eating calcium-rich vegetables like bok choy, kale, and broccoli will help—she needs more greens in her diet anyway.
Talk is not cheap. Processing the shock of a parent's suicide can take years, and Funess's hyper pace suggests she may still have some unresolved pain. "A book group can create an opportunity to unburden emotionally without going through therapy," says Treitler, "and she seems to be intellectually matched—practically every woman in this community now wearing bunny slippers to pick up the morning paper used to be the CEO of something. But even after four years, the club members are not part of her inner circle of friends. Although the club meets some of her needs, it's not addressing her emotional ones." So perhaps, the experts suggest, a support group or therapy would be helpful.
Wolfgang Mozart beats Wolf Blitzer. Funess's nighttime TV ritual is wreaking havoc with her levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, according to Peeke. "The National Sleep Foundation advises that you use your bed for sex and sleep, period," says Nelson. "If you have sleep problems, even reading, which is not close to the stimulation of TV, should be done in a chair. Maybe she could check into MSNBC online for ten minutes earlier in the evening and once in bed listen to music instead."
Hold the Equal. Sparkling water mixed with fruit juice, pomegranate seeds, or cucumber slices is a better choice than that artificially sweetened tea—not to mention the kids' soft drinks. The latter are mostly made with high-fructose corn syrup, which according to some recent research is metabolized differently from other sugars and hits the liver as if you were a Strasbourg goose being fattened for foie gras.
Tough love. Treitler suggests that while Gregory's still living at home, Funess enlist him to set a better example for his adoring younger siblings. "If he becomes a leader instead of a rule breaker," she says, "he will be more empowered to change his own eating behaviors." She recommends that the younger kids experiment with the Hocus-Pocus Magical Cookbook, by Donna Boundy, which comes with a wand and spells to recite while cooking and getting subtle nutrition lessons. And Nelson assures Funess that the children will adapt. "The data on kids' food preferences show that it's really about what's there for them," she says. "They will not go hungry. When they venture out into the world, they'll eat what they want, but their mother has a lot of control over what's served and should slowly change the availability of food in her own home. Introduce a good thing; remove a not-so-good thing. It can take a year to transform those habits. The dark chocolate has some antioxidant properties, but you get so much fat that it counterbalances the good effect. Sadly, don't expect it to prevent heart disease."
Next: The final home investigation
We Hear You!