The Gut-Mood Connection: Preventing and Treating Depression with Food

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Awareness and dialogue around mental health, and depression in particular, is growing all the time. It is heartbreaking that we have lost so many gifted, wonderful people to suicide, but the silver lining is that we’re actually talking about this out loud. Finally. We’re realizing that while people’s lives may appear idyllic on the outside, they are often suffering silently on the inside. Now imagine the impact that depression has on those who are not wealthy or famous and who may not have access to help.

As someone who struggled with depression for over a decade, I know what it’s like to think of death in terms of relief and escape. I am thankful that I had access to therapy coupled with a strong faith and a single mom who taught me and showed me that there is always a way out, even if it’s painful and difficult. I’m grateful that I witnessed people in my family who turned to alcohol and drugs as a means of escape and anesthesia and learned by watching them that substance abuse only made things worse. I am one of the lucky ones.

Many people don’t have access to therapy or treatment and don’t have a strong support system or a relationship with a higher power to lean on in the dark times. And even for those who do have these things, sometimes the pain is just too strong to break free of and they succumb to the overwhelming feeling that there is no way out. Sometimes drugs and/or alcohol are involved, and sometimes they’re not.

Depression is a complex problem and it’s causes can be both numerous and mysterious. To say it is simply due to diet or can easily be fixed with nutrition would be silly and short-sighted. However, more and more studies are showing that the impact of diet and gut health in preventing and treating depression are profound, and for some, dietary changes can mean the difference between life and death. Changing my diet made a huge difference for me and it helped give me the strength (both emotional and physically) to break free of depression.

Only recently has the medical community started to recognize and understand the connection between food and mood, and the data is really exciting! According to this study, our gut microbiota is linked to anxiety, depression, and even schizophrenia, and a poor diet is a risk factor for these conditions. Supporting a healthy gut microbiome with a healthy diet of unprocessed foods and probiotic foods and/or supplementation is not only beneficial in preventing and treating depression, but can be as effective as anti-depressant medications.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating our moods, sleep, and appetite and it also inhibits pain.  A lack of serotonin has long been blamed as the cause of depression, and this is often the case. However, we’re learning that the lack of serotonin can be a symptom of chronic inflammation and inadequate gut flora. We now know that 95% of serotonin is produced in the gut, and that the presence of enough beneficial bacteria is essential for proper serotonin production. So if we have a history of antibiotic use or were not exposed to enough bacteria in birth or childhood, we may not produce enough serotonin.

Another interesting factor is inflammation which is measure by testing C-reactive protein levels. In one studythat followed C-reactive protein levels in over 1000 women for several years, they discovered that the onset of depression was triggered by increased inflammation (higher C-reactive protein). A poor diet and inflammatory foods have been linked to increased C-reactive protein and mood disorders, so getting away from processed, high sugar foods is crucial.

The take home here is that by eating an anti-inflammatory diet and including probiotic foods or taking probiotic supplements, you can help prevent and/or decrease anxiety and depression. Do your best to eat whole foods including plenty of vegetables and moderate amounts of clean animal protein (pasture-raised, organic, wild caught, etc.) and limit or avoid processed foods and high glycemic/high sugar foods. Adding in some fermented veggies such as sauerkraut or kimchi that contain live cultures and possibly taking a probiotic supplement is also important. These foods can be expensive and aren’t always accessible, but local food banks and non-profits such as Got GreenFoodJustice.org, and othersare working to make fresh, real food more accessible to low-income and marginalized communities.

If you need support is this area or want to learn more about the food-mood connection and what you can do to feel happier and healthier, I’m here to help. Don’t suffer in silence! If you’re struggling with depression, I understand what you’re going through and I’m living proof that you can be free of it. Click here to book a free Coffee Talk session and we can talk confidentially about your concerns. I won’t try to sell you on working with me unless ongoing support is what you’re looking for. 

 

References:

Freshen Your Fridge and Prep Like a Pro - Simple Steps to Transform your Kitchen… and Your Health!

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The Tough Part -- Step 1: Pitch and Toss 
If you were going to eat those last few pretzels, you would have by now. Or that last scoop of freezer-burned ice cream. Or that pumpkin pie filling from two Thanksgivings ago. Your pantry, fridge and freezer are not repositories for forgotten foods. Start your spring-cleaning by tossing anything that’s beyond its expiration date. Next, throw away anything that’s been in a storage container all winter. And if you’re taking this time to clean up your daily diet, toss out the temptation. Remember my favorite healthy eating tip: you can’t eat it if it’s not there. Start from the top shelf to the bottom, tossing as you go – in the pantry, the refrigerator and the freezer. If you feel as if you’re being wasteful, consider that you’re actually investing in putting your health first.

The Fun Part – Step 2: Shop, Stock & Splurge
Shop: Two things to know before you go -- don’t shop on an empty stomach, and don’t shop without a list. The best list starts with meal planning, so look ahead and plan your meals for the next few days or even a week. Review the recipes and only put on your list the ingredients you’ll need.

Stock up on the good stuff. Organic foods I always have on hand include: 

  • greens
  • pre-cut veggies
  • organic, pasture-raised eggs
  • coconut/almond/hemp/flax milk
  • organic, pasture-raised/grass-fed meats and poultry
  • salsa
  • hummus
  • quinoa
  • almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • apple cider vinegar
  • avocados
  • bananas (which I peal, break in half and freeze when they start to over ripen, then I use them in my morning smoothies. You can do the same with avocado!)
  • Pre-cut and pre-washed veggies really help reduce my prep time. They may be a little more expensive, but you’re saving time and investing in your health!

Canned or jarred foods I always have on hand include: 

  • garbanzo beans/chickpeas
  • coconut milk 
  • organic vegetable and chicken broth
  • wild Alaskan salmon
  • capers
  • diced green chillies
  • organic diced tomatoes (from glass jars only)

And speaking of saving time, don’t forget your friend the freezer. Many grocery and health food stores carry organic, non-GMO frozen fruits, vegetables, fish, grilled chicken, and more. Having these on hand really reduces your weekly shopping time, daily cooking time, and ensures you always have something healthy to eat.

Splurge: I found that having nice-looking, high-quality storage containers makes prepping and storing my food more convenient and a lot more fun. Plus, glass containers are non-toxic and I can see everything at a glance – no more guessing what’s wrapped in foil or stored in that cloudy container! In fact, put your healthy foods right up front on the shelves of your pantry, fridge and freezer so you “crowd-out” less healthier choices.

The Smart Part -- Step 3: Prep and Package

Preparing healthy and delicious meals in less time just takes a little scheduling. My favorite tip: cook once, eat twice (or more!) This is the best way I know to make mealtime more efficient. You might have heard this referred to as "batch cooking.” Here's what you do:

• Pick a cooking day. Instead of cooking every night, pick a day or two when you'll cook for the week ahead. Make it fun by turning on some good music and getting the whole family involved. Sure, you'll spend a little more time in the kitchen on your cooking day(s), but you'll save an extra few hours the other days (or evenings) of the week!

• Double or triple your recipes when cooking. When you prepare more than you need for one meal, you’ll have plenty to pack for lunches and future dinners. If you’ll have quinoa with a couple of meals this week, cook it in batches. If you bought a head of broccoli or cauliflower, roast or steam it all for the week and use half now, half later. Learn to love leftovers!

• Have it your way. Try different ways to eat the same meals; if you're grilling organic chicken breasts or grass-fed meats, make extra to chop and include in salads or soups. If you're cooking quinoa, make extra and the next day, add some veggies, olive oil and vinegar for a quinoa-based salad – served warm or cold.

• Prepare for the next day tonight. If you pack a lunch, select your favorite mix of leftovers the night before, and pack it in an insulated lunch box. Include everything you'll need to enjoy the meal at work, school, or wherever you'll be for lunch. Don’t forget to grab your lunch box before you head out in the morning!

• Package well. Remember the high-quality storage containers you bought? Use them to store your pre-cut veggies, fruits and leftovers in single-serving or family-sized portions, then freeze or refrigerate them. When you’re ready to prepare a meal, just take out the number of containers you need for the number of people eating with you, warm them up and serve!

When you cook in batches, you’ll begin to find your own favorite tips and short cuts. My clients who have tried this approach say it’s made their lives so much easier!

Carve a Pumpkin and Avoid Looking Like One

While sugar is a powerful “drug” (see the latest report here), it’s not just the cute and colorful treats that tempt us. Halloween may hold happy memories for many of us of our own childhood costumes and candy collecting, as well as those of our children dressing up for trick-or-treating and their squeals of delight as they came home with pillowcases filled with candy.

But it’s not all fun and games. Sugar can weaken our immune system, increase symptoms of ADD/ADHD, and contribute to weight gain, moodiness and lack of energy. And the more we eat, the more we want. So what can you do now to avoid “over-treating?” Here are few healthy tips:

1. Focus on the Festivities. There is a lot to get excited about besides candy: Make creative costumes, plan a neighborhood party; build a haunted house; have a pumpkin-carving contest; spend the day decorating your yard and house.

2. Speaking of healthy treats … What if you (and/or your kids) try making some cute, nutritious Halloween treats like the recipe below or my Coco Loco Amazeballs? Now we’re talking fun and nutritious!

3. Don’t trick-or-treat on an empty stomach. I know the kids are excited, but it’s a great idea to have a nutritious meal ready when they get home from school. If you’re in a hurry, kids can have a “snack-ful dinner” – almond butter on whole grain toast with apples; carrots with hummus; black beans and quinoa, or a whole-grain pita with avocado and chopped chicken.

4. What is your favorite Halloween candy? Whatever it is – leave it at the store! If you must buy candy to give out to the trick-or-treaters, consider buying candy that you’d never eat if it was the last sweet on earth! Perhaps buy it that morning, and get just enough to give out that night.

5. You can’t eat it if it’s not there. Don’t let one night of sweet treats turn into a month of candy snacking. Toss out leftover candy the next day, and give your kids just a few days to indulge. Better to be a little wasteful by throwing out the sweets than to derail your health and weight goals (not to mention adding to tooth decay and all the other sugar symptoms).

Just because it is the 31st of October doesn’t mean we have to indulge in daily sweet treating that we wouldn’t normally do. It’s really about making better choices that keep YOU feeling better. Have cut-up fruits and vegetables in your fridge; fill snack bowls with almonds and walnuts (and take some to work, too!) Drink plenty of water throughout the day, and give yourself permission to break with old Halloween traditions to start your own.

Banana Ghosts and Tiny Pumpkins

Serves 12

Perfect for a party, these treats are a great way to provide your kids with some healthier choices.

Ingredients: 
• 6 bananas, peeled and cut in half horizontally
• 24 carob chips
• 12 tangerines or clementines, peeled
• 2 stalks celery, peeled and cut into 12 ½ inch pieces, and sliced thin (see picture)

Directions: 
For the Banana Ghouls, place carob chips as “eyes” on the bananas, turning them into ghostly goodies! For the Tiny Pumpkins, insert one cut celery piece into the center of each clementine to make a party “pumpkin” treat. Serve on a large platter at room temperature!

The Daily Writing Exercise that Can Help You Lose Weight

If you'd like to understand, once and for all, the relationship between what you're eating and how you feel, try keeping a mind-body food journal. It's a powerful way to gain insight into your eating habits and how your food choices impact your mental and physical wellbeing. A mind-body food journal is different from a "diet diary" because the intention is different: it's not just about the fit of your jeans, it's about how food makes you feel physiologically and emotionally and how it fits (or doesn't fit) your lifestyle.

Too often we eat mindlessly - on the run, watching television, behind the computer. A mind-body food journal helps create clarity between what we choose and how we feel. It leads the way to improved choices and - because food is medicine - supports total mind-body health and healing.

What to Track in a Mind-Body Food Journal

Food Factors:

  • When did you eat?
  • What did you eat?
  • How much did you eat?
  • Why did you eat?
  • How did you feel after eating?

Mind Factors:

  • What was your overall mood before and after eating?
  • Did you have headaches, mental/emotional fatigue or any other symptoms?

Body Factors:

  • What did you notice about your body before and after eating?
  • Did your energy level change or did you experience sympotoms like gas or bloating?

Social & Environmental Factors:

  • Who were you with for the meal?
  • Did you eat hurriedly or calmly?
  • Were you feeling stressed?
  • Were you doing another activity while eating?

Review your journal at the end of each day and summarize your habits. Note the key factors for why you chose to eat the way you did, what was going on, how you felt and if there were any physical symptoms.

By keeping a mind-body food journal you will be able to connect the dots between your food, your emotions, and your physical body. I also find that it helps me make better choices because I'm less likely to go for that sweet treat if I know I have to write it down.

Start keeping your journal today. Track your eating habits for a few weekdays and at least one weekend day. Do this for at least two weeks and see what happens. You can keep a small notebook or journal on hand or use your notes app in your phone, whatever works best for you. I recommend avoiding most food tracking apps since they require you to enter macronutrients and/or calories which defeats the purpose of this exercise.

I'd love to hear how this worked for you and what you learned, so please comment below and share your experience. Happy journaling!

Stressed Out? Yoga May Be the Answer

 Attempting boat pose on my paddle board in the North Cascades. It's a lot easier on solid ground!

Attempting boat pose on my paddle board in the North Cascades. It's a lot easier on solid ground!

If daily hassles, constantly chiming cell phones, and past-due deadlines have you at the boiling point, simmer down to the yoga mat and find a little peace of mind.

I have to admit - I never used to find yoga appealing. As someone who grew up dancing and doing extreme sports I prefer higher intensity fitness like weight training or HIIT workouts, basically anything I can do to loud, fun, dancey music. But lately I find myself in a different state of mind and suddenly yoga sounds pretty darn good.

As an entrepreneur I tend to think about work all day, every day. I have to make a concerted effort each day to unplug, shift gears and actually stop working at a certain point because no joke, I could work 24 hours a day and still have more to do. Sound familiar?

As my practice has grown and I have a fuller and fuller plate I find myself longing for ways to check-out and enjoy some "me-time". Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled that I'm helping more people get healthy and that my business is growing; but as a Wellness Coach I also need to be an example of good self-care while maintaining the emotional energy to guide and support my clients through their health challenges. Lately yoga has become a way for me to chill out, get in touch with my body and refocus on what's important. It doesn't feel as daunting as an intense weight workout does on days when I'm already feeling depleted, so I'm also more likely to do it. As I always tell my clients - the best workout is the one that you'll actually do.

The beauty of yoga is that it helps reduce stress hormones, of which most of us are producing far too much and too often. For those of us with stressful jobs and/or lives, yoga can provide a peaceful respite from daily life and help us handle stress in a more healthy way while increasing our strength and flexibility. Sounds like a win win to me!

Yoga is considered a "mind-body practice", combining physical poses (postures) called asanas, simple breathing exercises and guided meditation. And you don't have to be super flexible or athletic - anyone can reap the amazing benefits of practicing yoga, regardless of age or fitness level.

Benefits of Yoga:

  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Lower resting heart rate (so the heart works more efficiently)
  • Promote mental alertness
  • Better manage symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Reduce muscle tension, pain and stiffness associated with stress and chronic health conditions
  • Improve recovery after workouts

There are many 'styles' of Yoga for you to try. Styles vary in the number or poses and the intensity of how the poses are performed. Some styles are more intense like Bikram, Power, and Iyengar, while others such as Kundalini and Ashtanga are more restorative. All yoga styles originate from Hatha Yoga, which originated in India about 5,000 years ago. Hatha Yoga is a good choice for managing stress and chronic health concerns and is also ideal for beginners.

A typical yoga class begins with breathing exercises and gentle movements to clear the mind and limber up the body to prepare for the "active postures." Next, you'll move through a series of poses or asanas (standing, seated, and lying down). During class an instructor may use the ancient Sanskrit (Hindu) names and the American names for poses, e.g., Mountain Pose (Tadasana) or Triangle Pose (Trikanasana). A certified instructor will also help participants modify poses to suit their unique needs, ensure proper form and prevent injury.

The focus of practicing yoga is not on how long or how perfectly you perform the pose. Nor is it competitive - so no making comparisons or judgments of yourself and others! Yoga is all about letting go of your mental chatter by focusing on the breath and allowing it to guide your body into a calm, centered state.

Yoga class concludes with a guided meditation or relaxation exercise. This may help you learn to be more mindful and aware of yourself throughout your day, not just during your time on the yoga mat.

References

Spend Less Time Cooking and More Time Enjoying

I don’t know about you, but everyone I know is super busy. Every client who comes into my office seems to be juggling long work hours, a demanding career and family obligations while trying to maintain a social life and some semblance of a healthy lifestyle.  The number-one reason people give me for why they don’t eat well or exercise is lack of time. Self-care seems to be the first thing to go out the window when we get overwhelmed and busy. 

Luckily you don't have to spend countless hours cooking or prepping meals each week to maintain a healthy diet. There IS a better way! In fact, if done right, meal prep can actually save you time while helping you look and feel your best. So why not give it a try? You’ve got nothing to lose (except maybe a few pounds) and who couldn't use more free time in their schedule?

Below are my top tips for streamlining your meal prep and making the most out of the time you spend in the kitchen.

1. Cook once, eat twice (or more!) You may have heard me say this before and that's because it’s the best way to make mealtime most efficient. Some of us refer to this approach as “batch cooking.” You'll do one set-up and one cleanup, but you'll end up with multiple meals. Here’s what you do:

• Pick a cooking day. Instead of cooking every night -- pick a day or two when you’ll make the recipes for the week ahead. Sure, you’ll spend a little more time in the kitchen on your cooking day(s), but you’ll get an extra hour or two the other days (or evenings) of the week! I recommend you also prepare snacks and lunches on your cooking day. I cook on Sunday afternoons or evenings which works for me, but you'll need to pick a day that works best for you.

• Double or triple your recipes when cooking. When you prepare more than you need for one meal, you have plenty to pack for lunches and you’ll find that dinnertime is fast and easy. Learn to love leftovers!

2. Have it your way. Try different ways to eat the same meal – if you’re grilling chicken breasts, make extra to chop and include in salads or soups. Make a large batch of quinoa and add it to soups, salads or use it in place of rice with a stir fry or curry. I even use it in place of oatmeal to make a hearty breakfast porridge by adding coconut milk and topping it with shredded coconut, walnuts and cinnamon. 

3. Plan ahead. We all know we shouldn’t go grocery shopping on an empty stomach, but you also shouldn’t go without a list! And the only way to have the most effective list is to plan your recipes for the week and get everything you need for those meals.

4. Delegate! Use grocery delivery services like InstacartAmazon Fresh, or Amazon Prime Now. For a small delivery fee you'll save all the time you would have spent driving to and from the store and shopping. You also won't be tempted by impulse items so that fee may pay for itself! And if your kids are old enough, get them involved! Teach them how to wash produce and safely use a knife, and give them a special reward if they help with cleanup. The more involved they are with the process, the more they'll want to try new and healthy foods. This applies to spouses too :-).

5. Invest in quality storage containers. Now that you’ve made extra food, you want to package it in single-servings or family portions, then freeze or refrigerate it. Don’t forget to label and date the container – I use glass containers with seal-tight lids (don't store food in plastic!), mailing labels and a Sharpie for this task. Then when you’re ready to prepare, just take out the number of containers you need for the number of people who’ll be eating with you; warm it up, and serve! See what I mean by less time in the kitchen on the other days of the week?

6. The freezer section is your friend. Many grocery and health food stores carry high-quality, organic, non-GMO frozen vegetables, fish, berries, and more. This will significantly reduce your cooking time and ensure you always have something healthy and fresh to eat. The same goes for pre-washed salad mixes and greens like arugula and baby kale. I keep organic arugula on hand at all times so I can throw together a quick salad to get my greens in when I'm short on time or energy.

7. Stock your kitchen with standbys. Foods I always have on hand include: organic arugula, organic, pasture-raised eggs and chicken breasts or thighs, pre-cut celery, radishes (great with guac!), bell peppers and cauliflower (SO versatile), avocado, salsa, guacamole, organic sauerkraut, brazil nuts, pumkpin seeds, organic extra virgin olive oil & raw organic apple cider vinegar. The pre-cut and pre-washed veggies really help reduce my prep time! With these standbys on hand, I can always make a salad or lettuce wrap. I also keep my kitchen stocked with coconut milk, quinoa, and frozen berries (which I use in my morning smoothies).

8. Prepare for the next day tonight. If you pack a lunch, select your favorite mix of leftovers the night before, and pack it in an insulated lunch box. Include everything you’ll need to enjoy the meal at work, school, or wherever you’ll be for lunch! Also include your snack(s) and water. Try to avoid microwaving your food if at all possible. I know this can be tough in the workplace but there are alternatives. This Lunch Warmer by Crock-Pot is a great and affordable option.

9. Fast times call for slow cookers. Invest in a high quality slow cooker and buy the biggest one possible. Throw in your ingredients in the morning, set the timer and voila! Dinner is ready when you get home from work. This is a super-efficient way to make several meals worth of a delicious and hearty dish that you can easily reheat on the stovetop or freeze for future meals.

10. Buddy-up and swap meals! Make arrangements with a family member, friend or neighbor to cook and swap! You make one soup or meal and they make another and you split them in half and share.

I’d love to hear how “cook once, eat twice (or more!)” is working for you! There are loads of benefits, including: 
- Sticking to your healthy eating goals
- Saving hours during the week
- Reducing the stress of those three little words: "What’s for dinner?"
- Saving money by sticking to your list and resisting “impulse” buys at the store
- Trying new recipes and food combinations
- Less waste by using up leftovers throughout the week
- Being more present with family at dinner time

Happy prepping!

Why Most New Year’s Resolutions Fail and How You Can Make Sure Yours Succeed!

Did you know that 95% of New Year’s resolutions are forgotten or denied by the last day of January? Studies find that by February, many people are further behind than when they made the resolution! Here are some of the reasons why, and what you can do to avoid the pitfalls.

Challenge: New Year’s is a false start-time influenced by a group mindset. People have a greater chance of succeeding when they have laid the groundwork for success and considered the best time to begin working on their goals. January 1st is an arbitrary date, and we get caught up in feeling as if everyone is doing it. That said, there are some great ways to kick off the New Year on a positive note by taking care of your physical and emotional health and establishing healthy habits.

Solution: Collaborate with a friend or coach to pick a start date that’s right for you to begin working toward your goals. For example, if your goal is to lose a certain amount of weight, you may first want to keep a food diary for a couple of weeks, then clean out the “temptations” from your pantry and refrigerator. This helps you set up for success from the start. The best way to accomplish a long-term goal is to work toward it all year long. If you do choose to participate in a January health or fitness program, look for something like my Reboot Your Bod Detox that will teach you healthy, sustainable habits that you can incorporate in your daily life long after the program ends. 

Challenge: We set vague and/or unattainable goals. Resolutions are typically black and white – dealing in absolutes: I will quit smoking. I will exercise every day. I will not spend money. Goals like these set you up for failure before you even begin!

Solution: Set realistic and specific goals. Don’t try to fix everything all at once. Focus on what is most important to you right now, for THIS year. For example, “I will lose weight” is not a specific goal; however, “I will lose 10 pounds” is both specific and measurable. To make it realistic, give yourself a reasonable timeframe to attain your goal and set smaller, weekly goals. Then, celebrate when you’ve reached that first weekly goal, such as losing your first pound or two!

Challenge: It is difficult to stay motivated day after day, week after week. If we decide to give up or give in, who’s really going to call us on it? In order to make true change, we need to “retrain our brain,” create new habits and ensure accountability.

Solution: The #1 tip from health experts is: get support. Have an accountability partner, work with a Wellness Coach one-on-one, or exercise with a “workout buddy.” Accountability increases your opportunity for success by more than 50 percent! For example, with a Wellness Coach, you can explore your individual challenges and what’s holding you back, without feeling judged. With a workout buddy, you’ll show up on time, week after week, and have someone with whom to share your successes and hardships!

Try these other proven tips:

Picture your preferred future. Close your eyes. Picture how you will look, act, talk, walk, smile, when you’ve achieved your goal.

Feel the feeling of success. Consider how you will you feel once you’ve achieved your goal: Happy? Confident? “Lighter?” Go ahead and let yourself imagine it! Be specific – are you walking down the aisle in your wedding gown (or bridesmaid dress)? Are you dancing in skinny jeans and sexy heels? Are you on the beach in a bathing suit – without a cover up? Visualizing yourself as already having achieved your goals will help you stay on track toward what’s truly important to you.

Understand what de-rails you. Have you ever heard of “emotional eating?” That’s when we use food to comfort us when we’re depressed, scared or stressed out, for example. Let’s say you get upset at work; you may head to the vending machine thinking something sweet or salty will make you feel better. (It won’t.) Or if you’re bored, you might find yourself mindlessly eating chips in front of the T.V. Identifying your own unique, emotional eating triggers is the first step toward creating new healthy habits!

Start with these tips to help you ring in the New Year – healthier, happier, and with more intention and compassion for yourself!

Boost Your Brain Health With Meditation and Prayer

Amazing changes happen to your mind and body when you meditate or pray. During meditation and prayer, there is a physiological shift that takes place called the "relaxation response" (RR). This response is exactly the opposite of the stress response that so many of us chronically experience in our daily lives. You may think you have lots of ways to relax - sleeping, watching TV, reading - but these activities don't have the same physiological effects as meditation and prayer.

In addition to changes in brain waves, heart rate and respiration rate, meditation allows you to disengage from the thinking process. You become a detached observer of the clutter that fills your mind and learn to let go of it all, one breath, one moment at time. Your troubles won't magically disappear, but your perspective about them will shift, even if you meditate just a few days a week. Prayer has been shown to have similar effects.

So how does Meditation work?

When you are stressed (and let's face it, who isn't?), your body releases hormones that have a negative impact on your health. Research shows that having stress hormones (e.g., cortisol) circulating through your body for prolonged periods is associated with certain diseases. Meditation and prayer bring about the Relaxation Response and reduce the levels of stress hormones your body produces. Now, your immune system is better able protect you from illness, recover quickly, and restore optimal wellbeing.

What can Meditation and Prayer Do For You? Alot!

  • Reduce tension-related pain
  • Strengthen the immune system
  • Improve quality of sleep
  • Strengthen neural pathways
  • Improve emotional stability
  • Enhance creativity
  • Boost brain chemicals associated with mood, memory and learning

Start a Meditation Practice

Begin with 5 minutes a day and progress to 20 minutes at least 3-4 times a week. Use sounds of nature, music, a candle, or a guided imagery to help you get started. Meditation is often done seated or lying down. Use cushions or a chair to support your posture. Eyes closed or open is up to you.

When you pray, begin with expressing gratitude to your higher power for all of the good things in your life. Then give all of your concerns over and ask for help and direction with all of your concerns. Visualize placing all of your worries, hopes and dreams in the hands of your higher power and allowing them to carry any burdens and bless you with your heart's desires. 

You'll soon discover that meditation and/or prayer is a state of mind involving awareness and acceptance, that you can do in the midst of any activity. Namaste!

How to Win Thanksgiving

Forget football! Here is YOUR game plan for enjoying a healthy, feel-good Thanksgiving weekend!

1. Don’t show up hungry. When you sit down for the Thanksgiving meal, you don’t want to be “starving.” Studies show that skipping meals on the big day won’t save you calories – in fact, you will end up eating more!

2. Start Thanksgiving Day with two things: : 1) A healthy, satisfying breakfast and stay hydrated. There is not one right meal choice for everyone; if you need help figuring out what breakfast is best for you – let’s talk. 2) An intention for the holiday, such as “I will have a 'plan' and stick with it; I will eat mindfully, and I’ll remember to breathe!"

3. Have a midday mini-meal. If your Thanksgiving meal is in the early afternoon or evening, have a healthy midday snack that includes protein, fiber and healthy fat to help you avoid overeating at the Thanksgiving table.

4. Skip any foods that you don’t absolutely love. Don't waste your calories or indulgences on foods that aren't totally wonderful and amazing. Enjoy that piece of pie but skip the rice or potatoes that aren't that special, and fill the rest of your plate with non-starchy vegetables and clean protein. When you do eat something indulgent, really SAVOR it! Eat it slowly and take time to notice the smell, taste, and texture. You'll be surprised at how much more satisfied you are if you are mindful and present in that moment vs. popping cookie after cookie in your mouth without really paying attention.

5. Make the good stuff. If you’re not in charge of the Thanksgiving meal, you can still bring a healthy dish to ensure that you have a healthy option that you enjoy. Use this tip when you are the host, too!

6. Limit alcohol to one drink or skip it altogether. The more alcohol you drink the worse your judgement will get so this can also keep you from “mindless” eating and drinking! Instead, sip water, sparkling water with lemon/lime, or herbal tea. 

7. Say no to unhealthy leftovers. If you’re hosting, buy disposable food storage containers and send your guests home with all the not-so-healthy leftovers. If you don’t have it in your house, you can’t eat it!

8. Get right back to your healthy routine. If you eat a little too much or make some poor choices on Thanksgiving, don’t sabotage the entire weekend! The next morning, head to the gym, go for a walk or a bike ride. Drink half your weight in ounces of water each day, and journal about whatever cravings or feelings you have. The faster you get back on track, the less chance you’ll have of gaining weight or suffering from food-related symptoms. It's not the occasional indulgence that sabotages your health goals, it's the habitual, daily choices you make that determine your long-term success.

9. Be good to YOU. The holidays are a busy and stressful time for most of us and self-care tends to go out the window. Schedule some time for yourself to get a massage, take a relaxing walk, or spend some down time alone or with your partner. Don't engage in negative self-talk or inner dialogue because it just makes you feel worse and less motivated to make good choices that truly serve you. You deserve to be well taken care of, especially by yourself.

By being proactive and using these healthy planning tips, you can have a happy AND a healthy Thanksgiving holiday!

How to Have a Great Summer While Staying on Track With Your Goals

Summer officially begins this month and that means Father's Day, graduations, parties, weddings, and vacations, all of which may be fun but can also be stressful and filled with temptations. We want to look and feel our best when we’re traveling and enjoying warm weather and less clothing, but being in “vacation mode” often means over-indulging in foods that don't serve us and neglecting workouts. This leaves us feeling sluggish, bloated, heavy, and regretful, and when we return to everyday life it feels like we're starting from scratch (again).

But this doesn't need to be the case! You don't have to miss out on the fun or deprive yourself if you put some strategies in place and plan for success. If you know how to navigate different situations, you can feel confident and take good care of yourself no matter where you are or what you're doing.

Traveling
Preparing for a trip requires pre-planning. Start with your mode of transportation and make sure you’re prepared with healthy snacks whether you go by plane, boat or car. Below is a list of my favorite traveling companions. If I’m driving, I pack extra in a cooler to have in my hotel room; if I’m flying, I bring whatever I can and I try to find a health food store at my destination: 

  • Almonds or a mix of almonds, walnuts and pumpkin seeds 
  • Protein powder and/or meal replacement shakes and a Blender Bottle
  • BPA Free water bottle with a built-in filter such as Eco Vessel
  • Sliced veggies, organic apples, or grapefruit
  • Individual-sized hummus, almond butter and/or guacamole 
  • Sliced apples (goes great with the almond butter!) 
  • Mary’s Gone Crackers or plantain chips; great with guacamole or hummus!) 
  • Hard-boiled organic eggs from pasture-raised chickens 

Dining Out
With the possible exception of fast-food restaurants, every restaurant has options or will provide substitutions to meet your needs and any food restrictions. Do your best to find farm-to-table style restaurants that use organic, local ingredients and ask for extra veggies instead of the starch. At a Mexican fiesta? Skip the chips and melted cheese and order the veggie fajitas, for example. Ask your server to bring just the grilled veggies, and extra guacamole -- hold the sour cream and cheese (if you're gluten-free, ask for corn tortillas or skip them altogether since non-organic corn is usually GMO). Salsa works as a great side, as do black beans and a small amount of rice for some complete protein sans factory-farmed meat or poultry. No matter where you go, you should be able to order grilled chicken (hopefully free-rang/pasture-raised) or fish; steamed or grilled vegetables, and salad with olive oil and lemon juice or a vinaigrette. You might even consider asking the server not to bring the bread basket. And what if you drank less alcohol and relaxed with some sparkling club soda with lime or berries? You may be surprised how GOOD you feel after the meal (without the bloating, sluggishness, or headache)!

Picnics, BBQs and Family Reunions
You can’t control what your hosts will serve, but you can stack the odds in your favor by BYOF (bringing your own food). Make enough to share, of course! If you arrive with one or two healthy, delicious options, you’ll be sure to have something you enjoy without having food-related symptoms or regret. Check out my website for healthy recipes, from appetizers to desserts. No time to cook? A veggie or fruit tray is always welcome!

The Wedding Crasher
You can’t bring your own meal to the wedding, but you can prepare in other ways. Eating something healthy before you go will prevent you from being ravenous by the time the reception doors open. And of course, while a sip of champagne to toast the newlyweds won’t throw you off your game, drinking throughout the evening can add up, interrupting your sleep cycle and leaving you feeling rotten in the morning. Be sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and if available, add fresh raspberries or sliced strawberries to that bubbly to make it even yummier!

What To Know Before You Go
If you find that you cave in to temptations during these summertime soirees only to experience regret, you could be an “emotional or situational eater” or there could be situations that “trigger” your eating habits. You may want to consider meeting with me before your big event or vacation, so we can talk about your concerns and challenges and set you up for success. As your coach, I can help you change your relationship with food so that you are control of it, instead of it being in control of you. Together, we can learn why you might be “stuck,” what’s getting in your way, and how you can make small changes that will make a big difference. To learn more about what wellness coaching can do for you, cIick here to schedule a complimentary Coffee Talk session where we can talk about designing a plan based on your specific needs and goals!

Your Best Friend or Worst Enemy

You may know me; I’m your constant companion.

I’m your greatest helper; I’m your heaviest burden.

I will push you onward or drag you down to failure.

I am at your command.

Half the tasks you do might as well be turned over to me.

I’m able to do them quickly and I’m able to do them the same every time, 

if that’s what you want.

I’m easily managed; all you’ve got to do is be firm with me.

Show me exactly how you want it done, and after a few lessons, I’ll do it automatically.

I am a servant of the great men and women, and of course, servant to the failures as well.

I’ve made all the great people who have ever been great

And I’ve made the failures too.

But I work with all the precision of a marvelous computer,

with the intelligence of a human being.

You may run me for profit, you may run me for ruin; it makes no difference to me.

Take me, be firm with me, and I’ll put the world at your feet.

Be easy with me and I will destroy you.

Who am I?

I am HABIT!

What are you really sacrificing?

Yesterday marked the beginning of Lent, and it got me thinking about sacrifices. Many Christians and Catholics will give something up for 40 days during Lent for the purpose of reflecting on Christ's sacrifice for us. Many people choose some form of fasting such as giving up red meat, sweets, or alcohol. Others make different kinds of sacrifices like my friend who's taking a break from Facebook for 40 days or another who is refraining from negative self-talk.

But making sacrifices doesn't come easily to most of us. In fact, when we feel we shouldn't or are told we shouldn't have something, that is usually the first thing on our minds and we want it more than ever. This is especially true when it comes to our food choices. We decide to cut out sweets and then we have dessert on the brain 24/7, right? People often tell me how badly they want to lose weight or feel better but then follow it up with "But I could never give up my (insert soda habit, sweets, fast food, etc.)", "I don't want to have to sacrifice the foods I love" or "If I go to the gym after work I'll miss my favorite shows".

I'm not the type who urges my clients to eliminate everything they love and go on a diet of raw kale and quinoa, but I am compelled to ask the question, what are we really "sacrificing" by changing our lifestyles and/or eating habits for the better? Because the truth is, when you choose to eat low quality foods and live a sedentary lifestyle, you are sacrificing so much more than you may even realize. You are sacrificing your health, your enjoyment of life, and your energy to enjoy others. You are forfeiting your potential for greatness and success in your career and relationships. You are depriving yourself of the wonderful experience of feeling strong, vibrant, more attractive and more in control of your destiny. Simply put, YOU ARE GIVING UP YOUR POWER.

And for what? Processed food and reality TV? YOU DESERVE SO MUCH MORE! It's time to get serious about what we're willing to sacrifice our quality of life for. We need to take our power back and reclaim responsibility for our bodies and our health. There are many reasons behind the choices we make, and each of us must reach a place of being willing to do whatever it takes to feel better before we can embark on the path of lasting change.

So during this season of Lent, I encourage you to ask yourself what you are really sacrificing and why. Take a minute to write down how your current habits are serving you and/or harming you. Then, write down all the benefits you would experience if you nurtured yourself and your body in a healthful way. What would your life look like if you felt great, had more energy and truly felt good about yourself? I think you'll find that choosing to be your best self is really no sacrifice at all.