8 Signs Your Diet is too Restrictive

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If you’re trying to lose or manage weight, you have to eat less. Simple, but not easy. Figuring out how much you should eat in order to lose weight can take some time and a lot of trial and error, and part of this process is recognizing how little is too little.

Less is not always more.

Food restriction comes in many forms and can be done for purposes other than weight loss (food allergies or environmental reasons). It could mean cutting down on overall calorie intake, or cutting out specific foods or food groups (gluten, dairy, meat, sugar, carbs, etc.). Diets that are too restrictive have some undesirable side affects and won’t get you any closer to your goal. If you’re experiencing any of following, there’s a good change your diet is too restrictive.

  1. You continually go off your diet. If your diet is too restrictive, you won’t be able to stick with it. Anytime you make nutritional adjustments, always ask yourself if you could eat that way for at least two years consistently, even on weekends.

  2. You’re hungry all the time. If you’re trying to lose weight, feeling a little hungry is just part of the process. Feeling hungry for an hour or two before a meal is normal. Feeling hungry all the time is a sign you’re either not getting enough nourishment or not the right nourishment.

  3. You overeat or binge on foods you try to avoid. Restriction is always at the root of bingeing. If you find yourself bingeing on bread, cookies, ice cream, etc., you’re probably trying too hard to avoid these things. Ironically, the more you try to avoid certain foods, the stronger the urge will be to eat them. It’s better to include as many foods as possible (even the “unhealthy” ones) into your diet in moderation than to try cutting them all out.

  4. You think about food all the time. When you restrict too much or too often, your natural physiological response is to cause your brain to obsess over food in attempt to get more nutrition. If you find yourself thinking about food all the time, obsessing over food, or having intrusive food thoughts when trying to focus on other things, this is a huge red flag.

  5. You’re more tired than usual. Food = energy. If you’re finding yourself more fatigued and/or less focused than normal, you probably need more food. Also check in with your sleep and stress levels, as all these things affect your energy levels.

  6. Your sleep is suffering. Diets too low in calories and/or carbs can interfere with sleep. Low blood sugar causes cortisol to increase. Cortisol, our stress hormone, can keep us from getting the deep ZZZ’s that we need each night.

  7. Your moods are suffering. This ties back to cortisol as well. A diet that’s too restrictive will elevate cortisol. Chronic high cortisol can negatively affect other hormones (such as thyroid) and neurotransmitter that regulate moods.

  8. Your workouts are suffering and/or you’re not seeing progress. You need food to fuel and recover from your workouts. You can still do this in a caloric deficit, but only up to a point. If you always leave your workouts feeling wiped or lose all motivation to workout, you may be either over-training or under-fueling.

So what to do instead?

  1. BE PATIENT. Real body composition changes take time (a lot of it), and the process of figuring out how to get there also takes some time. Give up the pursuit of a quick or extreme fix and focus on making moderate changes that you can stick with.

  2. Create a moderate caloric deficit that you can sustain over the long term. It’s totally possible to go into a caloric deficit without experiencing the above symptoms, but the key is doing it moderately and slowly enough that you can stick to it.

  3. Include as many foods in your diet as possible. I can’t stress this enough. Don’t cut out gluten, dairy, meat, carbs, etc. because you read something on the internet or because someone else is doing it. Seriously, stop it. None of these things in and of themselves are the reason you’re not making progress. If you choose to cut a food group out of your diet, make sure it’s absolutely necessary. The more foods you cut from your diet, the more likely you are to binge on them.

  4. Enjoy the foods you love- even the “unhealthy” ones. This is so key in staying consistent with your progress and preventing overeating. Enjoying the foods you love in moderation will not kill you or cause you to gain weight overnight. In fact, doing this might actually help you stay on track by keeping you from feeling too deprived.

Have you picked up on a theme yet? Moderation, patience, moderation, and more patience.

How do you gauge when your diet is becoming too restrictiv

Food Logs: Beneficial or Waste of Time?

What's the deal with food logs?

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The first task I give to all my clients is to keep a week's worth of food journals. I see it as an essential starting point for anyone trying to lose weight, gain muscle, or improve overall health. 

No matter how aware you think you are of your current diet, there is always something to be learned from food logs.  Even as a nutritionist with 10+ years of refining my own diet, I still keep food journals every now and then to get a pulse on my dietary habits. 
 
 

Benefits of keeping a food journal: 

  • Brings awareness to what you're eating
  • Brings awareness to how and why you're eating
  • Shows how different foods/amounts of food affect you
  • Allows you to identify your food habits
  • Minimizes mindless eating
  • Adds an element of accountability, especially if you have to share your logs with someone else!
  • If your goal is body composition change (fat loss or muscle gain), tracking your food is the most accurate way to make sure you're hitting your calorie and macro goals.

Methods:
There are many methods of keeping food logs. There's some great (free!) apps out there such as MyFitnessPal and the FitBit app. Some people prefer the old school method of writing things down. Whether you use an app, a written journal, or notes on a napkin, make sure to gather these essential pieces of info:

  • Record everything you eat and drink throughout the day. No cheating! There's no benefit to only logging your "healthy" meals!
  • Note what time you ate and how long it took you eat (did you inhale a burrito in 60 seconds or sit down at the table for 20 minutes?).
  • Note how you felt (physically, mentally, emotionally) before and after each meal and/or snack. 
  • Aim to log your food on both weekdays and weekends to get the most accurate picture. For most people, their diet does not look the same on days that they have less structure (weekends, vacation, etc.). It's very important to become aware of how your diet is affected by this.

Be sure to include the following in your logs:

  • Log at least 3-5 days a week, including weekdays and weekends in your log. 
  • Write down everything you ate or drank and at what time. 
  • Note the circumstances (at home alone, happy hour with co-workers, etc.) and how that affected what and how much you ate. 
  • Note how you felt before and after each meal and snack.
  • Measure things. This can be done using a food scale or standard measuring tools such as cups, tablespoons, teaspoons, etc. Don't just guestimate! More often than not, our perception of measurements is wrong, so to be as accurate as possible, take the time to weigh or measure your food. 
  • Save your food logs! It's useful to return to them later on to see how your diet has improved (or not!). 

Analyze without judgment

Be kind to yourself during this process, as it can be really difficult to come face to face with your food choices. Criticizing or guilt-tripping yourself won't get you anywhere, so be honest about your food intake while analyzing your data without judgment. Are there habits or patterns that you picked up on in your logs?  Did the act of food logging alone cause you to make any changes to your diet? Can you pinpoint one or two areas that you could improve upon? 

Is food logging necessary for YOU?

As I mentioned earlier, everyone can learn something from keeping food logs. However, keeping accurate logs can be time consuming and a pain in the ass. For this reason, it's important to recognize whether or not this is a beneficial practice for you.

There are cases in which logging is more necessary than others. If your primary goal is to change your body composition, food logging is a must. If you're not tracking calories and/or macros, you're just taking shots in the dark and hoping for the best (this doesn't usually work!). 

If your goals are to make healthier food choices, improve your relationship with food, or get better at skills such as mindful eating or meal planning, logging isn't as necessary. These are cases where focusing on other skills is more worthwhile.

As with all things, each individual is unique. Some people find that regardless of their goal, they eat better and stay on track more easily if they keep daily logs. So know your goal, and know yourself. Does keeping logs help get you closer to your end goal? Can logs potentially serve another purpose to you such as acting as a meal planning tool or adding accountability?

Have additional questions about logging or nutrition in general? I'd love to help you out. Fill out the email form below and I'll get back to you asap!

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Protein Brownies/Blondies (vegan, GF)

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I've been keeping a secret for about three weeks now (nope, not pregnant). It's the recipe to these homemade protein brownies. I noticed about a month ago that I had started relying pretty heavily on store bought protein bars to hold me over between meals. I decided that I wanted to either eat more whole foods snacks or make my own protein bars. I went with the latter. My original inspiration was this recipe, and then I continued to tweak it to my liking until I felt like it was share-worthy.

These brownies (or blondies!) are soft, delicious, and full of protein and fiber to balance blood sugar. Each serving contains 10 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, and a handful of other nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, manganese, vitamin B1, and antioxidants. I can't get over how delicious they are and have been making a batch (sometimes 2!) every week. 

Protein Brownies

Makes: 8 brownies

Time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 15 oz. can black beans
  • 1/2 cup chocolate protein powder
  • 1/4 cup honey, maple, or agave syrup
  • 1/4 cup almond butter
  • 1/4 cup cacao or cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbsp. coconut oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350. Drain and rinse the black beans, and add them to a food processor or blender with the honey, almond butter, coconut oil, and vanilla. Blend until completely smooth, adding up to 1/4 cup water if needed. In a mixing bowl, combine the protein powder, cacao, and salt. Add the wet mixture to the dry one and stir well. You should have a fairly thick batter, almost the consistency of cookie dough. Use some coconut or olive oil to grease an 8 x 8" pan. (An 8 x 4" bread pan actually works just as well and gives you a thicker brownie).  Bake for 22-25 minutes. The brownies will still be mushy when they first come out of the oven but will firm up after an hour or so, especially if stored in the fridge. 

Protein Blondies

Makes: 8 brownines

Time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans
  • 1/2 cup vanilla flavored protein powder
  • 1/4 cup almond butter
  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup honey, maple, or agave syrup
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Follow the same steps as the brownies, stirring in the chocolate chips in with the dry ingredients. 

Notes:

  1.  Sugar: Depending on how sweet your protein powder is, you may not even need a full 1/4 cup sweetener. I used Vega Sport Protein which is pretty sweet so I actually only used about a teaspoon of sweetener and they still taste pretty delightful.
  2. With this basic recipe you can easily add in anything else you want in your brownie; nuts, seeds, dried fruit, etc. I have been adding a couple tablespoons of vanilla flavored collagen powder and a teaspoon of ashwagandha to mine.

Give these a go, and I promise you won't be disappointed! Enjoy!

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A Peek Into a Nutritionist's Diet

 Peanut butter banana hiking sandwich

Peanut butter banana hiking sandwich

What do nutritionists eat?

People ask me all the time how and what I eat. This question always makes me squirm a little, because

1) I don't have a simple answer like, "I just eat paleo" or "I'm a vegetarian", and

2) what works for me nutritionally may not be ideal for someone else. I wouldn't want someone to adopt my way of eating just because I'm a nutritionist. I like to encourage people to experiment on themselves and find out what's best for their own bodies and goals. Also, I've been working on my own nutrition for almost ten years now, and it continues to evolve as my body and taste preferences shift.

So, with that out of the way, I thought I'd attempt to share how I eat and WHY I do so. Here goes:

  1. I eat to support my active lifestyle and maintain good mental health. I don't eat for weight loss or body composition because I've had a history with eating disorders and going down that road isn't healthy for me. My focus nutritionally is to support my energy and high activity level without f***ing my adrenals, as well as maintaining good mental health without meds. That last part is really, really important to me.
  2. I don't follow any specific diet. I've tried them all, and found that there isn't one that fits me quite right. Part of this has to do with the restrictive nature of many popular diets, and restrictive is bad news for me. I don't have many food sensitivities (dairy, gluten, soy, etc.), so I eat all the things in moderation and focus on quality (organic, unrefined and unprocessed, and minimal additives as much as possible).
  3. I try to avoid refined sugar, fast foods, fried foods, snack foods (cookies, crackers, chips, etc.), and conventional (non-organic) animal products. I don't drink alcohol very often either because it makes me feel shitty almost every time, even if it's just one drink. (This is unfortunate, because I do love beer!) I also avoid tomatoes because they're gross.
  4. I eat three meals a day with 1-2 snacks in between. I don't count calories, but I'm probably hitting about 2000 cals a day, more or less depending on my activity level. I make sure every meal has about 1-1.5 servings protein, 1 serving carbs, 1-2 servings fat, and 1 serving veggies. Snacks are about half those portions. It's not perfect and I don't track calories or macros, but I've become really good at eyeballing how much I need to eat each meal.
  5. I grocery shop and meal plan every week. If I don't plan ahead I end up living off of Chipotle burritos and protein bars. This is fine when I'm in a pinch, but probably not a great long-term plan.
  6. I indulge. I don't have designated cheat meals but that doesn't mean I don't allow my diet to vary. If I'm at an event or out to eat I enjoy foods (and portions) that I might not normally eat, because, LIFE. My vices are coffee and chocolate, and I enjoy both of those pretty regularly.  

Here's what an average day might look like for me:

Upon Waking: I drink about 20-30 oz. water first thing in the morning every day. Sometimes I'll add an electrolyte powder if I have a pretty active day ahead. 

Breakfast: Sometimes I'll have a smoothie if I'm in a hurry, but I prefer my eggs and avocado toast. (It's actually my favorite meal, and I eat it almost every day!)

  • 1-2 pieces Ezekiel sprouted grain toast
  • 2 eggs
  • spinach
  • 1/4 avocado
  • nutritional yeast
  • sriracha

Coffee: If I drink coffee it's usually with or after breakfast. I try to stick to one cup, as anything more than that makes me crazy.

Morning snack: This is usually some kind of protein bar such as RX Bar, Vegan Greens Protein Bar, or Bulletproof Protein Bar

Lunch: This is usually something cold and easy to throw together, such as:

  • Salad with tons of veggies, nuts/seeds, feta cheese, etc.
  • Grilled chicken
  • Quinoa, couscous, or other grain

Afternoon snack: This is often some yogurt with peanut butter or a small smoothie. I don't always have a second snack, as it just depends on how hungry I am. 

Dinner: This could be anything from gluten free pasta to tacos or curry. One of my favorite dinners is curry with veggies, tofu, and white or brown rice. I might also top off my dinner with a few dark chocolate covered almonds! 

 

 

Brain Boosting Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

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Trader Joe's may not realize it, but they are out to ruin me. Why? Because they sell these mini dark chocolate peanut butter cups that I have to work to resist every time I'm in the store (which is a lot). You probably know the ones I'm talking about, and they strategically place them right in front of every cashier so you can't escape them. They're my favorite treat ever, but if I buy them they end up being my next meal. Or six. 

So I did what I always do in this situation. I set out to make my own dark chocolate peanut butter cups that would taste equally as scrumptious but with less sugar. Not to pat myself on the back or anything (ok, ya I'm pretty proud of this one), but I've created a treat that I actually like MORE than TJ's that includes brain boosting and stress busting properties. You really can't beat that, right?

As most people who follow me know, I'm a huge fan of adaptogens. Adaptogenic compounds are substances that help the body respond positively to stress and therefore promote relaxation, mental focus and clarity, sustained energy, and optimal hormone balance.  For more info on adaptogens check out this article.

As I was concocting my peanut butter cup recipe, I wanted to include some adaptogens to give them an added boost without compromising the flavor. That's where mushrooms save the day. Stay with me...

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Certain types of mushrooms, such as cordyceps and reishi, act as powerful adaptogens and have been shown to increase brain health, specifically focus and mental stamina. I've tried a couple different brands, and my favorite is Maju Superfoods Mental Mushrooms. They use 4 different types of organic adaptogenic mushrooms, whereas the other products I've tried only include one or two. The flavor is neutral so it was easy to add without creating any bitterness.

The final product is a rich dark chocolate peanut butter cup that is low in sugar, includes only 5 ingredients, and provides a mental boost. You can't even consider this a dessert, but rather a supplement that you must take daily! :) 

Brain Boosting Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

Makes: 6 peanut butter cups

Time: 30 minutes to prep, 1 hour to set

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/3 cup cacao or cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp honey, maple, or agave
  • 3 Tbsp. peanut butter or other nut butter of your choice
  • 1 tsp adaptogenic mushroom powder*
  • Paper muffin baking cups or silicone muffin pan (you won't be able to get your cups out of a metal baking pan without destroying them so I don't recommend using those)

*If you choose not to use mushroom powder or don't have access to it, there are plenty of other options. You just need a powdery ingredient to thicken your peanut butter. I have used protein powder, collagen powder, and maca for this and they all work great. You can even use more cocoa if you're a serious chocoholic! 

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In a small mixing bowl, mix the cacao powder, coconut oil, and honey. You can adjust the amount of sweetener to obtain your desired sweetness. I like a very bitter chocolate so I go pretty light on the honey, but you can adjust it to your liking! Pour a thin layer, about a teaspoon, of the chocolate mix into the bottom of each of six baking cups. Make sure the chocolate is evenly spread. Place the cups into the freezer to harden. In the meantime, stir together the peanut butter and thickening agent (mushrooms, protein powder, etc.). You should have a pretty thick substance that you can mold with your hands. You may need to add more powder or PB to get this consistency depending on what brand you're using. Remove your cups from the freezer. Take about a teaspoon of the PB mix and press it into a flat round on top of the chocolate layer. You want the PB to be just smaller than the bottom of your cup, almost to the edges but not quite. Now pour your chocolate mixture over the top of the peanut butter in a thin, smooth layer. Place the cups back in the freezer and allow to set for at least an hour.  Enjoy them cold in order to keep the shape.

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For an easier but not-so-fancy PB cup, mix ALL the ingredients together in one bowl and pour into muffin cups. Allow to freeze. You won't have that pretty separation of chocolate and peanut butter, but the taste is the same and it's easier and faster to make them that way!

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Homemade Sushi Bowls

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Any self-respecting health snob knows that you should always choose brown rice over white rice when given the option. Right?

As it turns out, white rice may not be as bad as we think. White rice that has been cooked and then cooled is full of something called resistant starch. Resistant starch is a compound similar to fiber in that it doesn't get fully broken down by our digestive system. It "resists" digestion in the small intestine and travels straight into the colon where it's fermented by our gut bacteria. 

Benefits of Resistant Starch:

  • Gut health: Similar to fiber, resistant starch can help alleviate GI issues such as irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, and loose stools. It also serves as food for the friendly bacteria that live in the large intestine.
  • Weight management: Resistant starch gives us greater feelings of satiety, which means less calories consumed overall. It also promotes the release of leptin, which is our "fullness" hormone, and again, reducing cravings and calories consumed. It helps balance blood sugar which is also necessary in order to lose weight.
  • Healthy Immune System: Because most of our immune cells reside in the gut, improving our overall gut health with resistant starch leads to increased production of immune cells. 

Where to Find Resistant Starch:

  • Oats
  • Beans/legumes
  • Greens bananas or plantains
  • White rice that has been cooked and then cooled
  • White potatoes and yams that have been cooked and then cooled

Now that we can stop feeling bad about eating white rice (and we all know how delicious white rice is), I have the perfect recipe for RS-rich cold white rice- sushi bowls! I love sushi, but it's one thing that I'm just not willing to try to make on my own. So if I can throw all the ingredients into a bowl and eat it that way, then I'm calling that a win. 

Homemade Sushi Bowls

Time: 10-15 minutes if rice is prepared in advance

Serves: 1 bowl

Ingredients: 

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  • 1/2 cup white rice, cooked and cooled (cauliflower rice is a great sub for people looking for lower carb options)
  • Protein: If you really want to make it taste like your favorite sushi, grab some sushi-grade fish (don't just use any raw fish!). I lightly seared some ahi tuna for mine, and I've also used crab meat when I'm willing to spend a couple extra dollars. 
  • Veggies: Good options for sushi veggies are cucumbers, carrots, and green onions. You really can put whatever veggies you like, and I even added red bell peppers just because I like the taste!
  • 1/4 avocado
  • 2-3 sheets nori or other seaweed
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce, tamari, or coconut aminos
  • Juice from a 1/4" thick lemon slice 
  • Wasabi to taste

The best way to make this bowl is to prepare the rice the night before and allow it to cool in the fridge. When you're ready to eat, chop up your veggies and combine them with the rice, protein, avocado, and crumbled nori sheets. Pour oil, soy sauce, and lemon juice over the top and stir well to mix flavors. You can either stir in the wasabi or add a small amount to each bite. 

You can also mix all the ingredients excluding the nori sheets, and then roll up your sushi bowl in the nori and eat it like a wrap!

Enjoy!

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7 Techniques for Creating Healthy Habits

Making meal plans and telling people what to eat is actually only a very small part of what I do as a nutritionist. Most people have a sense of what they “should” be doing, but that’s only half the battle. Breaking old habits and creating new ones is freaking hard, and I think I spend most of my time with clients giving them tools and techniques to make changes that stick.

The other thing I’ve learned is that when it comes to creating healthy habits and breaking bad ones, everyone responds differently to this process. What helps one person get to the gym might not motivate someone else.  

If you’re having trouble implementing change, try out some of these techniques. As I stated above, everyone needs a different flavor, so try them out and find which ones help you stick to your good habits.

7 Techniques for making change:

  1. Understand the “Why”: Knowing the motivation behind your goals is really important. Most people who successfully lose weight or improve their health have a strong driving factor behind it all, and it usually goes beyond the vanity of wanting to look good naked (although there’s nothing wrong with that!).  For some it’s the ability to keep up with their kids on the playground. For others, it’s a serious health condition such as diabetes or heart disease that serves as a wake-up call. Dig deep, way beyond the “what” of your goal, and find out WHY it’s so important to you. Write it down and keep it nearby for those days when motivation is running low.
  2. Create accountability: I guarantee you will get better results with accountability than if you do it on your own. How do I know this? Because you’re human. Whether it’s a coach who regularly checks your food/exercise logs, or a workout buddy who won’t let you bail on morning runs, find accountability for the steps you are taking toward your goals.  
  3. Record and measure: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it” (Peter Drucker). Keeping meticulous logs can be a pain in the ass, but if you’re serious about making change this is a must. No matter what my clients' goals are- weight loss, improved sleep, better mood- I have them find a way to track their progress for two reasons: 
    1. It provides an extra element of accountability, especially if you know someone else will be reviewing your logs.
    2. Your logs will show you if you’re making progress or not. That way you know when to make changes if something isn’t working or to continue on with the program you’re on. 
  4. Habit Pairing: Habit pairing is a method of strengthening good habits by pairing them with an enjoyable activity. For example, if regular exercise is something you struggle with, find a podcast, audiobook, or playlist that you love and only allow yourself to listen to it while you’re exercising.  Another popular habit pair is to watch your favorite movie or TV show while you do your weekly meal prep.
  5. Take small steps at a time (success begets more success):  If you try to change too much too fast, you’ll likely fail. Failure is demotivating and can discourage you from trying again. On the other hand, if you choose one or two small steps to work on at a time, you’re more likely to succeed. Success is rewarding and will motivate you to keep going.
  6. Reward yourself: Offering yourself a reward for meeting your goals can add an extra push to get it done. This is especially valuable if you have a long term goal that may take several months or even years to accomplish. Giving yourself some rewards along the way can help keep you in it for the long haul. For example, if your goal is to eat correctly portioned meals for one week and you succeed, treat yourself to a non-food reward such as a massage, new item of clothing, or a date to the movies.
  7. Get away from the all or nothing mindset: Almost everyone I’ve worked with has admitted to me that they tend to be all or nothing with exercise and eating right. This is one of the most detrimental attitudes to making healthy changes. You can’t always be in “all” mode, and if you're taking a black or white approach, you have only one other option: “nothing”.  Just because you can’t do ALL the right things ALL the time doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from something small.  Okay, so you ate cake for breakfast. You didn’t flush your whole week or even your day down the shitter by doing so. Don’t beat yourself up or try to compensate for the mistake, just move on and do the next right thing.

Herbal Mocha

A couple months back, I had some blood-work done to see what my hormone levels were. Without divulging too many details, there were a couple things that were a little imbalanced. This came as no surprise to me, as I'd started feeling more fatigued than usual lately. 

Upon analyzing the results of my labs and putting a plan of action into place, one of the first things I knew I had to do was give up caffeine for a little while. The reasoning behind this is enough for a whole other post, and if you're interested I'd be happy to explain that on another day.

So, back to coffee. As any coffee lover knows, a big part of the pleasure of drinking coffee is the ritual. Many of my clients will tell me, "I don't even need the caffeine, I just like to have something warm and comforting in the morning".  I totally get that, and when I decided to cut down on my caffeine intake, I knew I'd have to replace it with something else that was pleasurable to sip on. Decaf coffee is always an option, but I also wanted a beverage that was highly nutritious and provided some energy without stimulants like caffeine and sugar. 

That's why I chose to include an adaptogen as my main ingredient. Adaptogens are compounds that help the body adapt to stress, providing more energy and a sunnier mood without depleting your nutrient stores in the way that caffeine does. Some common adaptogens are herbs such as ginseng, ashwagandha, and rhodiola. (Check out this article on one of my favorites, rhodiola.)

I chose to use cordyceps, as this is an adaptogen I hadn't tried yet. Coryceps is actually not an herb, but a type of mushroom that may help increase stamina and boost testosterone. I also included cacao for its high antioxidant and fiber content (and cuz it's chocolate, duh), collagen for healthy joints, skin, and hair, and carob just because I love the flavor.

I've been making this "herbal mocha" every morning for the last couple of weeks, and I'm kinda hooked! I love the creamy texture and mildly sweet flavor. 

Herbal Mocha

Time: 5 minutes

Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup milk of your choice (I have used soy milk and almond milk for this recipe and both are delicious. The soy milk makes the mocha a bit more frothy than the almond)
  • 1 Tbsp powdered cordyceps*
  • 1 tsp cacao or cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp carob powder
  • 1 serving collagen (I used this brand)
  • Honey, maple, agave, or stevia for sweetness (optional)

*Cordyceps is definitely not your average household adaptogen and may not be easy to find. A great alternative to cordyceps is maca. Maca is also an adaptogen with similar properties as cordyceps and is much easier to get your hands on. I used this brand of cordyceps, and I found it at Sprouts. Four Sigmatic also has various mushroom teas that would make a great base for this recipe. 

The best way to make your mocha is to put all the ingredients into a blender and give it a whirl for about 5 seconds. This isn't necessary, but blending gives it a nice froth on top. I've been pouring mine over ice since it's blazing hot this time of year, but you can easily heat it up using a microwave or stove-top. 

Athlete's Ice Cream

Recently I was digging through my assignments from when I was in school for my nutrition consultant cert.  I came across this recipe that I created during the sports nutrition module, and I decided that it had to be my next blog post. (I don't know how I ever forgot about it in the first place-ice cream, chocolate, highly nutritious?!)

This ice cream recipe is delicious, easy to make, and just in time for summer. Let's take a look at why it's beneficial to athletes (straight from the text of my school report!). Even if you're not an athlete, you can still enjoy the nutrition that this yummy recipe has to offer.  

Potassium

Maintaining proper sodium to potassium ratio is key for cell health as well as maintaining fluid and PH balance within the body. A healthy ratio of potassium to sodium intake is about 5:1, but most Americans are consuming an excess of sodium and not near enough potassium, creating a ratio of something like 1:20! Getting some extra potassium in the diet will help improve heart health, reduce fatigue, relieve muscle aches/soreness, reduce water retention/bloating, and is especially beneficial for those who exercise and sweat often. Bananas seem to be the obvious source of K, but did you know that 1 avocado has almost 4 x the amount of a banana?  

Magnesium

This recipe is also a great source of Magnesium. Magnesium is vital to heart function, energy production, metabolism, and muscle contraction. Mg aids in healthy muscle function, prevents cramping, and can ease symptoms of PMS. Mg is a natural relaxer as well. It can improve sleep quality, and all the athletes I know could use a few more zzz’s! 

Antioxidants and Flavanoids

What would ice cream be without chocolate?! Cacoa is probably best known for its antioxidant and flavonoid content, both of which have ant-aging and cancer fighting properties. As healthy as exercise is, it produces a lot of free radicals in the body. This means we need more antioxidants to clean that stuff up so it doesn't do damage to our tissues. Also, a single ounce of cocoa powder contains 4% DV calcium, 35% magnesium, 54% manganese, 5 grams of protein, and 9 grams of fiber.

Anti-Inflammatory 

Keeping inflammation under control is key for sports recovery. Chronic inflammation can lead to muscle degeneration, increased viral infections, gut problems, and even arthritis or tendinitis. Zucchini is a surprising anti-inflammatory food because of the omega 3 content in the seeds and the caretnoids like lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene found in the skin. 

Other Benefits

This ice cream is packed with fiber which helps create satiety and improves gut motility. The healthy fats and fiber help balance blood sugar, keeping energy and moods stable while also preventing excess fat storage on the belly.  If you choose to boost your ice cream even more with protein and collagen (see recipe below) you gain the added benefit of joint health, muscle building and repair, and healthy hair, skin, and nails. 

Athlete's Ice Cream

Serves: 2

Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium sized ripe bananas
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1/2 cup chopped zucchini, peel and seeds included
  • 1 heaping Tbsp cacao or cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • Honey, agave, or maple syrup to taste (optional, the banana will give it some sweetness already)
  • Pinch of sea salt (also optional, but very tasty!)

Remove the bananas and avocado from their peels and cut into pieces. Put both in freezer overnight or until frozen. Once they are completely frozen, put them in a blender or food processor with the other ingredients and blend until you have a nice smooth consistency, about 30-60 seconds. Some food processors tend to heat up quickly, and if this is the case with yours, give it time to cool off briefly in between 10-15 second pulses. This recipe is best eaten right away, as it doesn't hold the same consistency after being stored in the freezer. 

Addition ingredients/toppings:  I like to add a half scoop of whey protein and a serving of vanilla flavored collagen in mine. When adding protein and collagen, you may need to throw in a splash of water or other liquid to help absorb the extra powder. Other great additions include toppings such as nuts, seeds, dried or fresh fruit, or dark chocolate chips. 

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Nutrition Basics Part II: The Three Most Valuable Nutrition Habits

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Nutrition can be a confusing and complex topic that leaves most of us with heads spinning. There’s so much information out there and it’s often contradicting. Foods that are cancer-causing this week will be a "superfood" next. Last week in Part I of Nutrition Basics, I explained WHY nutrition can seem so complicated, but now where do we go from there?

So much of optimal nutrition is dependent upon the individual, but I've broken it down into three principles that are applicable to everyone. Also, implementing these practices are the groundwork for achieving any goal reached through nutrition.  We can’t begin to use nutrition to improve performance, lose weight, or manage health problems until these building blocks are in place. In fact, many common issues are often relieved or at least minimized by making these simple shifts.

Whenever I find myself getting swept up by the enormity of nutrition, I ALWAYS fall back on these three principles:

1. Eat Real Food

Unfortunately we exist during a time when food is often altered far from its natural state, and the consequences on both our health and our environment aren’t pretty. Our bodies are designed to digest and utilize foods in their most natural form. Most foods found in our grocery stores today are no longer in that natural form and contain harmful additives.  When we ask our bodies to process substances it doesn’t have the machinery for, we put unnecessary stress on our digestion, immune system, metabolism, and detox processes. This contributes to some of the most common health problems Americans experience such as gut issues, fatigue, sleep disturbances, weight gain, mood disorders, skin problems, and more.  

What to do?

  • :Add nutrient dense, minimally processed foods into your diet as much as possible. Examples include fresh fruits and veggies (especially dark leafy greens), organic meats and dairy, beans and legumes, unrefined starches such as brown rice, quinoa, and potatoes, and healthy fats such as avocados, coconut, olive oil, nuts and seeds. Oh, and tons of water!
  • Minimize nutrient sparse and processed foods such as fast food, convenience and snack foods (cookies, chips, and candy), sodas, and refined starches (white sugar and white bread). Many pre-packaged foods contain added preservatives and artificial flavors and colors, so buying foods in their most natural form is an easy way to avoid those. 

2. Balance Blood Sugar

The human body is very particular about how much glucose it wants circulating in the blood at any given time. The body regulates blood sugar with two hormones: insulin and glucagon. If blood sugar increases, insulin shuttles glucose from the blood to cells to either be burned for fuel or stored as fat. Glucagon helps raise blood sugar levels in the case that it drops too low.  Dygleciemia is a state of chronically dysregulated blood sugar, and can include both low and high blood sugar. This is often the result of inadequate physical activity, irregular eating patterns, skipping meals, big or high carb meals, and chronic stress. The consequences are mood swings, fatigue, weight gain (especially around the abdomen), hormonal imbalances, and in some cases diabetes.

What to do?

  • Eat regularly: Aim for three meals a day with 1-2 high protein snacks in between. Include protein,  healthy fats, and veggies at every meal to slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream. Try not to skip meals, and eat before you feel too hungry (hangry!). 

  • Complex Carbs:  Refined starches and sugars (candy, cookies, pastries, white flour) raise blood sugar like nobody’s business. Choose complex carbs such as brown rice, potatoes, squash, quinoa, fruit, and sprouted grain bread. 

3. Manage Stress

Stress and mindset have everything to do with nutrition. Our bodies are actually well equipped to handle stress whether that’s physical, mental, emotional, or dietary, but the modern world exposes us to an overload of stimuli, information, and demands. When the total load of stressors outweighs the parasympathetic nervous system’s ability to bring us back to balance, all of the body’s major functions take a hit. Stress and high cortisol levels inhibit absorption of nutrients, slow metabolism, disrupt digestion, and cause the body to hold on to extra fat. That just means we have to be all the more tenacious about rest, recovery, and stress reduction. 

What to do?

  • Eliminate stressors where you can. Learn to say no to unnecessary demands and make self-care a priority. This includes getting plenty of sleep every night, eating well, and exercising. Also remember, STRESS ABOUT FOOD is still stress.  If you are micromanaging your diet and constantly fretting over what to eat and when and how much….well then we’ve missed the point, haven’t we?
  • Find your calm. Engage in practices that down-regulate the nervous system, such as meditation, taking a bath, journaling, deep breathing, prayer, or progressive relaxation techniques. 
  • Have fun. Fun is actually good for your health, so don't forget to engage in activities that you enjoy and spend time with people who support and energize you. 

Making Lasting Changes

As you make lifestyle changes, remember to always keep it simple.  Diet and exercise should be healing and energizing, not overwhelming, stressful, and guilt-forming. Decide on one or two changes you can make and work with those until they become second nature.  When those shifts become habit, incorporate the next ones. Slow and steady is the best way to make lasting changes.

This can be tough advice to swallow (no pun intended) because we are impatient people. The diet industry is thriving off of quick fixes, fad diets, and products that suggest quick results. I can promise you that these companies don’t have your best interest at heart. A healthy lifestyle is a life-long endeavor that takes some effort and intention. The reward though, is much greater and well worth the work. 

Nutrition Basics Part 1: Why Nutrition is so Complicated

I see it all the time. It's that glazed over, deer in headlights look that people get when they are feeling overwhelmed by ALL the nutrition and diet information they've ever read and heard. What should I eat? And when? Am I eating too much or too little? Should I eat gluten or dairy or meat? This website says I should, but that book says I shouldn't... 

Nutrition is complicated. Even I, despite studying this science for years, still find myself baffled by the complexity of the human body and the role that food plays in it. It's very easy to become frustrated and overwhelmed by the colossal amount of (often contradicting) nutrition information out there.  Here's a few main reasons why nutrition is really effing confusing:

  1. We don't actually know very much. Our ancestors have been using food as medicine for thousands of years, but nutrition as a studied science is very new. Some very basic discoveries, such as the chemical makeup of carbs, fats, and proteins, were made in the 1700 and 1800's, but it wasn't until the 1930' and 40's that vitamins, amino acids, and various other compounds were identified. In 1968, scientists finally determined that eating the right amount of these nutrients can impact health and prolong life (seems obvious now, but it was a big discovery at the time)- which is where modern nutrition science as it relates to health and weight loss really begins. So, we don't even have a full 50 years of nutrition science under our belts. 
  2. The research we do have is limited and often flawed. One reason for this is the newness of it that I mentioned above. It's difficult to determine the long-term effects of specific diets or compounds if they haven't been around very long. (There's not too many 80 year olds out there who have been eating Splenda and GMO's their whole lives...) Also, non-biased funding for nutrition research is hard to get. In comparison to things like cancer research, nutrition isn't really seen as a priority. So what happens is major food corporations provide funding for these studies, but you can imagine the conflict of interest when, say, the sugar industry funds research on the health impact of sugar. Scientists get paid off, and the results are fudged and manipulated so that the outcome almost always (some studies say 90% of the time) favors their sponsor. 
  3. No two bodies are the same. Nutrition is not a one-size-fits-all, and in fact, it's the exact opposite. Everyone is so drastically different in what foods their bodies tolerate well, how much of each macro and micro-nutrient they need, and what allows them to reach their goals and feel their best.  Oftentimes, Joe Shmoe will find a diet that allows him to lose weight and feel amazing, so Joe goes out and preaches his diet as though it's THE way to nutrition salvation- and there are a lot of those Joes out there. What they may not realize is that even though that method worked amazingly well for them it, it could actually be detrimental to someone else. (Consumers, beware of health gurus that claim to have THE answer.)

Hopefully this information helps explain why nutrition can be so confusing, but there still lies the question of how. How do we navigate this maze of information to figure out what to eat to optimize health and weight management? Next week I'll be posting Part II of this article which will answer that question on a foundational level. In Part II I will give you three of the most important nutrition practices that can benefit anyone. So if you're looking for a good nutritional starting point, or just need a couple surefire things to fall back on when you get overwhelmed, you can always focus again on these three basics. 

Catch ya then!

Digestion 101: Simple Steps for a Healthy Gut

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Nobody likes a cranky gut. Gas, bloating, constipation, and loose stools are all very inconvenient symptoms of digestive problems. When the gut is unhappy, you're probably not utilizing the nutrients in your food as optimally as possible. BEFORE you attempt a full-blown elimination diet or spend big money on allergy testing, try some of these simple steps first. Oftentimes, it's the little things that make a big difference in your gut.

  1. Chew your food slowly and thoroughly. This is probably the most important practice, yet very few people do this regularly. Chewing your food stimulates digestive enzymes in the mouth, which means smoother digestion through the stomach and intestines.
  2.  Sip a homemade electrolyte beverage during your meals, using 6 oz warm water (not hot), juice of 1/2 a lemon OR 1 tsp apple cider vinegar, and a sprinkle of sea salt. This will help facilitate the breakdown of foods while you eat.
  3. Go crazy with gut friendly herbs and spices such as sea salt, ginger, rosemary, thyme, oregano, turmeric, and cinnamon.  
  4. Lightly steam or cook veggies. Raw veggies are harder for your system to break down, so until your GI tract is in tip top shape, consider cooking them lightly to start the breakdown process, in turn making more nutrients available to your body. Blending veggies into a smoothie has a similar effect. 
  5. Eat fermented foods daily. Examples include yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, and kimchi. These foods contain healthy bacteria and enzymes that a healthy gut thrives on. 
  6. Calm down! Managing stress is another vital, yet often overlooked, aspect of optimal digestion. When you're stressed, your "fight or flight" system is activated. Part of that system is a stunting of digestion that allows more blood into the parts of your body that are needed to handle the stress- usually your muscles and brain. Try taking 10 deep, slow breaths before diving into your next meal. 

This is by no means an exhaustive list of gut-friendly practices, but it's a great place to start. As I said earlier, most people feel a world of difference doing just a couple of these simple things. If these things do not relieve GI discomfort, you may need further analysis and supplementation. Consult a health practitioner or doctor, and consider getting tested for food sensitivities and/or candida.  

Tuna Curry Salad

Any Office fans out there? Eating tuna makes me think of how Andy always calls Jim "Big Tuna", which makes me think of John Krasinski, which makes me happy. So when I do the math, tuna = happiness. I've been making this super simple Curry Tuna Salad for lunch this week and wanted to share it in hopes that it brings you the same happiness, even if only for its delicious flavor and nourishment. 

(Maybe I should have named this the "Big Tuna" Curry Salad??)

Tuna Curry Salad

Serves: 1

Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients: 

  • 1 can tuna
  • 1/4 red bell pepper, chopped
  • About 2 Tbsp chopped red onion
  • 2 Tbsp Greek yogurt
  • Curry spice (I use about 1 tsp, but you can adjust to your liking)
  • About 1/4 - 1/3 cup Garbanzo beans
  • 2 Tbsp cashews
  • Mixed greens

Mix all ingredients together except greens, adding more yogurt and spices to achieve the desired creaminess and flavor. Serve over a bed of greens. 

What's on My Menu this Week?

This article is a little out of the ordinary for me, as I don't usually post what I eat regularly. Over the weekend, as I was making my grocery list and planning my meals for the week, I realized that I've found myself in quite the food rut; egg sandwich for breakfast, salad with chicken or tuna for lunch, and some kind curry or stir-fry for dinner. So I did some recipe research and found a couple new ones to try out, and man did I hit the jackpot! I've been enjoying some really delicious meals this week, so much so that I want to share what I've been chowing down on. (I did not, however, change my egg sandwich breakfast because that is my favorite meal ever and I can't live without it!)

Meal #1: "Eggy Breakfast"

This is actually NOT new, as I mentioned above. I eat this almost daily, and it's one of my favorite meals, ever. In my house we call this "eggy breakfast", and it goes like this: sprouted grain toast on the bottom, then a layer of avocado, a sprinkle of nutritional yeast, spinach or other greens, a fried egg, and a drizzle of sriracha on top. I usually have this for breakfast, but I'll eat it for lunch or dinner sometimes too. 

 I spy bacon in the background...

I spy bacon in the background...

Meal #2: Spicy Shrimp Tacos with Garlic Cilantro Lime Slaw

I'm salivating as I write about this recipe that I found on "Pinch of Yum's" website. Naturally, I made a few modifications: I used plain yogurt in place of the sour cream, added avocado and crushed red pepper to the lime sauce, and used purple cabbage instead of green (it was on sale).  Seriously, you need to try this!

Meal #3: Baked Sriracha and Soy Sauce Tofu Salad

I'm willing to admit that I love tofu, but I'm often at a loss for ideas on how to prepare it. So, I tried out this baked tofu recipe by "I Love Vegan" and fell in love. The only I change I made was to use sesame oil instead of olive oil. I added these into a salad that included quinoa, greens, cilantro (left over from the shrimp tacos), carrots, bell peppers, onions, and cashews .I drizzled some additional sesame oil and sriracha over the top and WOW. So so good. 

Though I'm without a photo of this, I've also been enjoying some delicious "yogurt parfaits" for breakfast or as a snack. These usually include Greek yogurt, maca powder, chia seeds, blueberries, walnuts, coconut flakes, cinnamon, and a drizzle of honey. It's pretty much pudding...

If you try any of these, please let me know how you like them, and if you have favorite go-to recipes of your own, leave them in the comments below!

Rhodiola; Nature's Steroids

Last week I posted an Instagram story of myself taking a shot of Rhodiola tincture and then grimacing at the potent flavor. The caption read, "give me that energy!" Surprisingly, I received a lot of messages in response to the post. Some people were agreeing that yes, rhodiola extract tastes like ass. Mostly though, people were curious about what it was and why I was taking it. This prompted me to share some info on one of my favorite herbs. 

Rhodiola Rosea is a flowering plant that typically grows in cold climates. It's considered an adaptogen, meaning it contains chemical compounds that help the body adapt to stress. Other common adaptogens include ashwagandha, ginseng, cordyceps (a type of mushroom), holy basil, and licorice root. 

The Siberian Secret

Here's some interesting history for you:  Rhodiola has been used for centuries by the natives of places like Russia, Alaska, Scandinavia, and Iceland, but it wasn't until the 1940's that researchers starting getting their hands on the stuff. During that time, the Russian government caught word from the Siberian natives of this powerful flower that could increase energy and stamina. The Soviets began running secret experiments (scientists working on this research were banned from sharing any information outside the country) on various adaptogens. They were searching for substances that would increase the athletic performance of their Olympians as well as help their military adapt to the stress of sleep depravity, frostbite, and exhaustion.

Several different adaptogens were used in these experiments, but ultimately it was rhodiola that produced the most impressive results. They found that it helped soldiers maintain energy and focus even when sleep-deprived, and it increased the endurance of their Olympic athletes. They even found that their astronauts were in better spirits after long periods of isolation!

Unfortunately, the Russians lost interest in rhodiola pretty quickly once they starting using synthetic steroids...

The Benefits of Rhodiola

Obviously, the effects of rhodiola are not going to be as striking as steroids, but it's still pretty impressive and a whole lot kinder to your body.  Think about it- if this plant contains chemical compounds that allow it to adapt and survive in cold, harsh climates, it stands to reason that we could also benefit from its constituents. 

While scientific evidence on rhodiola is still limited, there has been strong evidence that Rhodiola does the following to some degree: 

  • Increases energy and reduces fatigue, especially in cases of chronic fatigue and burnout
  • Boosts athletic performance (specifically for endurance athletes) and speeds recovery 
  • Improves cognition and focus
  • Reduces symptoms of depression
  • Help reduce the effects of all stressors- physical, chemical, mental, and emotional

How to Take

Take 50-200 mg rhodiola daily (preferably between meals) for fatigue reduction or before a workout. You can easily find rhodiola in most health food stores in either tincture or capsule form. Many holistic stress-reducing supplements contain this herb in combination with other adaptogens, which can be great for anyone struggling with chronic fatigue. Personally, I like these products:

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Resources:

Johnson, Kristina. "Before Steroids, Russians Secretly Studied Herbs." National Geographic. National Geographic, 12 Jan. 2017. Web. 24 Jan. 2017. <http://www.nationalgeographic.com/people-and-culture/food/the-plate/2016/08/long-before-doping-scandals--russians-were-studying-performance-/>.

"Rhodiola Rosea - Scientific Review on Usage, Dosage, Side Effects." Scientific Review on Usage, Dosage, Side Effects | Examine.com. Examine.com, n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2017. <https://examine.com/supplements/Rhodiola+Rosea/>.

"Rhodiola Rosea." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2017. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhodiola_rosea>.

"RHODIOLA: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings - WebMD." WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2017. <http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-883-rhodiola.aspx?activeingredientid=883>.

Train Your Brain in 2017

We put a lot of time and effort into training our bodies, whether it's preparing for a 10k, learning a handstand, trying to lose weight, or slowly carving out that 6-pack (it's in there somewhere!) But we often forget that our minds need just as much training to stay sharp and healthy. Do you have routines in place that improve your mental health? Maintain a calm and focused state of mind? Cultivate a positive outlook on life? These things (like big biceps) don't just happen. You have to give it some effort. 

Let's face it. 

We live in a society today that celebrates a certain level of workaholism, regardless of the toll it takes on our mental health. We are overworked, under-rested, and drowning in toxic information. Our collective mental health as a nation is dwindling, and our stress-related health problems are rising. Even if you're not on the verge of a total nervous breakdown, my guess is that you could benefit from a little brain-care. Here are a few practices that you can adopt this year to help you manage stress, reduce anxiety, improve mental clarity and focus, and increase your overall sense of happiness and well-being.

  1.  Meditation: Recent studies are proving that the positive effects of meditation on health, happiness, and self-confidence are numerous. Even if the practice seems daunting, you can still reap the benefits of meditation with 5 minutes of deep breathing, visualization, or mindfulness practice a day. Try using a meditation app to help keep you focused, such as Headspace, Calm, Mindshift (designed specifically for anxiety), or Take a Break
  2. Gratitude: Gratitude is powerful. Practicing gratitude on a regular basis, specifically in written form, has been shown to improve mental health and even increase feelings of well being in those with chronic pain. Try keeping a daily gratitude journal, and notice how your mentality shifts. I recommend the "5 Minute Journal" app, which serves as a daily journal for gratitude, intentions, and affirmations.  
  3. Journaling:  Life can move so fast that we're often left with no time to process our thoughts and feelings. This accumulation of bottled up emotions can manifest itself in depression, anxiety, anger, insomnia, or even physical pain. Writing can give you a safe outlet to express and process your thoughts, feelings, fears, frustrations, desires, or anything else going on with you. It's also an excellent way to work out solutions to problems you may be facing in your life. So put the pen to paper and just let if flow- there's no judgement from your journal!
  4. Simplify your life: If there's clutter in your home or work-space, there's clutter in your brain. Take the time to keep things tidy, and don't be afraid to throw shit away! Also consider other ways in which to remove mental clutter, such as reducing time spent on social media and watching TV (gasp!). Seriously, give your mind regular breaks from the constant flow of (often unimportant and toxic) information. Your frazzled brain will thank you for it, and you'll probably notice that you didn't miss much anyway!
  5. Let go of perfectionism: If you struggle with any type of anxiety, chances are you have some perfectionistic tendencies. Striving to do your very best is an great quality, but sometimes perfectionism can cause quite a bit of anxiety, guilt, obsessive thoughts/behaviors, and procrastination. Even as you pursue excellence, give yourself permission to make mistakes and not have all the answers. Also, consider changing your inner dialogue from "should", "have to", "need to", to "can", "want to", and "choose to". 

Regardless of what your 2017 goals are, all of the above practices can help you achieve them. Who wouldn't benefit from a calm and focused brain that is happy and healthy?!

 

 

 

Snack Bar Showdown

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I encourage all my clients to eat snacks in between meals to prevent their blood sugar from dropping too low. Low blood sugar causes anxiety, brain fog, fatigue, mood swings, and is usually the culprit of those annoying sugar cravings. An occasional bout of low blood sugar is nothing to worry about, but chronic dysglycemia contributes to weight gain, fatigue (adrenal fatigue) and perpetuated cycles of food cravings and mood swings. 

It's much more complex than that, but the point is: snacks are important. Now, before you take this as an excuse to eat ALL the potato chips and candy, remember that I'm talking about high-protein, healthy snacks. Some examples are nuts, seeds, cottage cheese, hummus with veggies, a small protein shake, yogurt, etc. 

These types of whole-foods snacks are ideal, but sometimes (and I'm guilty of this too), grabbing a protein bar is just way more convenient. There are so many different snack bars out there, and it can be hard to know how to make the best decision. The good news is, I've broken it all down for you into a simple guide, as well as picked apart some popular brands for you. 

What to look for

Here are 3 things to look for when choosing a snack bar, and notice that none of these involve counting calories.

  1. Ingredients: This is key. There are plenty of seemingly healthy snack bars out there, but the ingredient list never lies. Look out for bars with added sugar (cane syrup/sugar/juice, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, tapioca syrup, and of course sugar. ) Also beware of excessive additives, preservatives, and hydrogenated oils. Even "natural flavors" are a little red flag (MSG, aspartame, and bugs fall into this category!) If you don't know what it is or can't pronounce it, it's probably best just to steer clear. Look for ingredients that are whole-foods and things you recognize like dates, nuts, fruits, seeds, etc. 

  2. Protein to sugar ratio: The goal is to find a high protein, low sugar snack. A good rule of thumb is to aim for no less than 10 grams of protein and no more than 10 grams of sugar. Or, try to get your protein-sugar ratio to be either equal, or better yet, higher in protein per gram than in sugar. 
  3. Organic: Thankfully there are more and more food companies that are catering to the increasing demand for organic foods. If you can find a snack bar that meets the above requirements and contains organic ingredients, then you've hit the jackpot. Organic foods have been shown to contain higher amounts of nutrients than their conventional counterparts. They also limit your exposure to harmful chemicals and pesticides.

Bonus:  Many snack bars these days include a powdered greens blend that usually contains green veggies, spirulina, chlorella, and other alkalizing greens. I wouldn't say that this is a necessary requirement for a healthy snack bar, but it's definitely an added bonus. Why not go for that boost of vitamins, minerals, and phyto-nutrients?! 

Let's look at some popular snack bars

Now that you have some guidelines for choosing healthy and blood sugar balancing bars, let's see how some of the popular ones measure up.

CLIF: There's a reason CLIF bars taste like cookies; they pretty much are. First of all, let's take a look at the ingredients in the basic CLIF bar recipe. The very first ingredient is brown rice syrup (sugar!). Then if you read on, you'll find cane syrup, dried cane syrup, and barley malt extract (sugar, sugar, and more sugar). You'll also find "natural flavors" and added vitamins and minerals that, apart from the foods they occur in naturally, can't be assimilated well by the body. Some of the ingredients are organic, depending on which flavor you buy, so at least there's that.  Lastly, CLIF bars average about 9 grams of protein and 23 grams of sugar. YIKES! 

The verdict: If you really are that guy climbing up a steep rock face, then the high sugar content might be just what you need to keep you from bonking, and even then there are better sources of this sugar. But for the average person on an average day, 23 grams of sugar is way too high for only 9 grams of protein, and you're better off attaining essential vitamins and nutrients from whole food sources rather than the added ones in these bars. 

What about CLIF Builder and Luna bars? One thing the Builder bars have going for them is that they contain more protein than regular CLIF bars. The Luna bars have about the same amount of protein as the regular CLIF's, but are much lower in sugar that the regular and the Builder.  Other than that though, they aren't a much better choice. They still contain multiple sources of added sugar, additives, and synthetic vitamins and nutrients. 

The verdict: They're candy bars with some protein powder in it. Move on. 

LARABAR: Now we're getting a little closer to something of substance. All LARABAR products contain simple, whole-food ingredients with the main source of sugar being dates. Most of their bars are not organic, but they have recently released a few new ones that do contain organic ingredients. The downside is that most LARABARS only contain about 5 grams of protein and 20-25 grams of sugar! Their "Crunchy Nut and Seed" bars are a slightly better option with only 7 grams of sugar, but still low on protein. 

The verdict: A LARABAR is a good option when in a pinch, but I'd recommend eating it with an additional protein source to help balance out the protein-sugar ratio.

KIND bars: The ingredients in KIND bars are not organic, but the list is pretty short for all their products. You will find some added sugar, but generally just one source per product, as opposed to 3-4 sources of sugar in the CLIF bars. The protein-sugar ratio varies from bar to bar, and most of them have more sugar than protein. 

The verdict: Similar to LARABARS in that they'll do in a pinch. The ingredients are decent, but make sure you read the nutrition facts before choosing your flavor, as some KIND bars have a better protein-sugar ratio than others. Their "Strong and Kind" bars are the best option, containing 10 grams of protein and around 5 grams of sugar. 

Pro Bar: I am looking specifically at their line of "Base" bars, as these are their high protein bars. The protein-sugar ratio is excellent, containing 20 grams of protein and about 15 grams of sugar. The ingredients are where things get tricky. They do have a good amount of organic and whole foods ingredients, but then you'll also find natural flavors, 3-4 sources of added sugar, fractionated palm kernel oil (trans fat!!!), and other processed oils such as partially defatted peanut oil. 

The verdict: It's really hard to pass this bar with flying colors after reading some of its ingredients. The sugars and processed oils are too high up on the ingredients list to be ignored, but the protein-sugar ratio is excellent. This bar is not a terrible choice, but eat these sparingly too minimize trans fat intake. 

Nature Valley: Nature Valley has quite a wide variety of granola and protein bars, and all of them have a pretty offensive ingredient list. They all contain added sugar of the worst kind (corn syrup, fructose, barley malt extract, sugar), as well as vegetable oils, corn starch, and preservatives. None of their products or ingredients are organic, and the only bars with enough protein are their "Protein Chewy Bars". 

The verdict: Not worth it. These bars are full of poor quality ingredients, and most have too much sugar. You'd be better off with a CLIF bar!

My Top 8 Healthy Protein Bars

So if a CLIF bar has too much sugar and a LARABAR has too little protein, what's a health nut to do? Here are eight of my favorite snack bars that pass the above standards. 

  1. Oatmega: 
    1. 14 g protein/about 5 g sugar depending on flavor
    2. Grass fed whey protein
    3. Mostly organic ingredients, does have 1-2 additives per product
    4. High in omega 3's
  2. RX Bar:
    1. 12 g protein/about 12 g sugar depending on flavor (I love that the protein in these bars is from eggs rather than protein powder)
    2. Not organic, but all ingredients are non-GMO, non-soy, and non-dairy. Also contains very minimal, completely whole-foods ingredients (similar to LARABAR)
  3. Amazing Grass Protein Superfood bar:
    1. 12 g protein/ 13 g sugar
    2. All organic ingredients, no additives
    3. Includes "superfood" greens powder blend
  4. Whole Earth and Sea Greens Vegan Protein Bar
    1. 15 g protein/ 23 g sugar (sugar content is a bit high, so save this one for a post-workout snack)
    2. All organic ingredients, no additives
    3. Includes "superfood" greens powder blend
  5. Epic bar:
    1. 8-15 g protein/ 2-7 g sugar depending on flavor
    2. Meat sources are either grass-fed, organic, or all natural
    3. Minimal, whole-foods ingredients with no additives
  6. Health Warrior Superfood Protein bar
    1. 10 g protein/ 10 g sugar
    2. Some organic ingredients, mostly whole-foods, only 1-2 additives per bar
    3. High in omega 3's
  7. 22 Days:
    1.  6-20 g protein/14-17 g sugar depending on flavor
    2. All organic ingredients, all whole-foods ingredients, no additives
    3. High fiber
  8. Greens Plus:
    1. 15-18 g protein/6-19 g sugar depending on flavor
    2. All ingredients are GMO free, some are organic
    3. Includes "superfood" greens powder blend and herbs

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it's a great place to start. Most of these can be found at Sprouts, Whole Foods, and online. If you have a preferred protein bar or even a recipe for one, please share!

 

Peruvian Stuffed Avocado (Palta Rellena)

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With Thanksgiving only a week away, I probably should be posting a healthy stuffing recipe or a gluten free apple pie. Buuuuut that's just not what's inspiring me right now.  Today's recipe isn't seasonal or pumpkiny and has absolutely nothing to do with Thanksgiving. Rather, it was inspired by my recent trip to Peru.

I really enjoyed exploring Peruvian cuisine, but you can only have so many heaping piles of rice and potatoes before you just want a freaking vegetable. One afternoon, while sitting in our favorite corner restaurant in Cusco, I was perusing the menu for something that resembled a salad. I had zero luck with that, but a "stuffed avocado" caught my eye. The picture on the menu didn't look like more than an avo half with a measly scoop of chicken on top. I figured what the hell, it's something other than fries. 

The meal that was brought to me far exceeded expectations. On my plate were three plump avocado halves under a mountain of chicken, veggies, and potatoes, and topped with kalamata olives. 

My first reaction: "This is like a chicken pot pie- in an avocado!"

Second thought: "I have to make this when I get home!" 

Palta rellena soon became my go-to meal when I wasn't up for ordering mystery food. I knew that I'd at least get a good serving (usually two or three) of protein, veggies, and healthy fats. 

Peruvian stuffed avocado (palta rellena)

Makes: about 4 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients: 

  • 1/2 lb baked or grilled chicken
  • 1 cup white potatoes, cut into cubes about 1 cm in size
  • 1/2 cup shredded or chopped carrots
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 2 avocados
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp plain yogurt
  • 1 Tbsp lime juice (about 1/2 lime)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Kalamata olives for garnish (I used about 1/3 cup)
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  1. Chop potatoes into cubes about 1 cm in size. Add them to a saucepan with enough water to fully submerge potatoes. Bring water to a boil and allow to cook for about 7-10 minutes, or until tender. 
  2. While potatoes are cooking, chop carrots and onions and put them in a medium sized bowl. Add chicken, olive oil, yogurt, and lime juice.
  3. Cut the avocados in half and remove the pits. Use a spoon to scoop the avo out of its skin while keeping its shape intact. 
  4. When potatoes are done cooking, drain the water. Allow them to cool for 10 minutes or run cold water over them to speed the cooling process. Add potatoes to mixing bowl with other ingredients and stir well. Add salt and pepper to taste. 
  5. To serve, scoop the salad mixture into the avocado "bowls" and top with kalamata olives.  

Mayonnaise option:

The stuffed avocados that I had in Peru were always made with mayonnaise, like a potato salad. I've never been a mayo fan, hence the EVOO and yogurt substitution. For the mayo lovers out there, you can make this dish more authentic by using mayo instead of the yogurt and oil. 

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5 Habits for a Healthy Brain

Have you been struggling with fatigue, gut problems, weight gain, depression, anxiety, or other reoccurring health issues? The truth is, it might be all in your head. I don't mean to say that you're making it up, as these issues are very real and all too common. Rather, your health problems may be the result of an unhealthy brain.  

The human brain is a vital organ that does more than thinking and learning.  It governs everything that goes on in your body including digestion, metabolism, muscle contraction, sleep, breathing, moods, and energy. Brain problems aren't just for those with head injuries and the elderly. The health of your brain can suffer, just as any other body part can. 

Symptoms of an unhealthy brain:  

  • Brain "fog" or trouble focusing
  • Poor memory
  • Low motivation
  • Low moods or mood swings
  • Food or alcohol cravings
  • Fatigue
  • Digestive issues
  • Insomnia
  • Hormonal imbalances 
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Weight problems
  • Anxiety, irritability, or anger
  • Impulsiveness or obsessive thoughts/behaviors
  • Poor muscle control

Ups and downs are a part of life, but a healthy brain is generally optimistic, focused, calm, energized, able to handle life's challenges, and keeps all the parts running smoothly. I'd say that's some motivation to care care of that squishy gray matter upstairs. 

Caring for your brain

Check out 5 things you can do to maintain a healthy brain. Don't want all the details? Scroll down for the summary of do's and don't's. 

1. Balance blood sugar: Your brain's main source of fuel is glucose; sugar in the bloodstream. That doesn't mean you should head to the nearest doughnut shop for some brain fuel.  It means to balance the amount of glucose circulating at any given time. It's a complicated system that involves insulin, glucagon, and sometimes cortisol, but basically- too much or too little glucose circulating is damaging to the brain. Avoid things that cause blood sugar dysregulation such as excessive sugar/carbs, large meals, skipping meals, caffeine, chronic stress, and lack of sleep. Instead, eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day that include protein, healthy fats, veggies, and complex carbs. Exercise regularly and aim for 7-9 hours of sleep every night. 

2. Oxygen: Like glucose, oxygen is also crucial for optimal brain function. As we go through our day to day routines, most of us aren't giving much thought into how we're breathing. Many people (especially when stressed) breath in short, shallow bursts or even periodically hold the breath. This limits the amount of oxygen available for the brain to function optimally. Practices like meditation and diaphragmatic breathing are excellent for increasing oxygen to the brain. Also, don't forget to exercise regularly. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, allowing for more oxygen to be delivered up there. 

3. Anti-inflammatory diet: Just as our joints, muscles, and gut can become inflamed, so can the brain. This causes the communication between neurons to slow, meaning slow thinking, slow movement, and slow reflexes. Include plenty of anti-inflammatory foods in your diet such as turmeric, ginger, salmon, tuna, fruits, and veggies (especially dark leafy greens). Avoid pro-inflammatory foods such alcohol, caffeine, sugar, refined starches, margarine, sunflower oil, safflower oil, canola oil, and any foods that you may be sensitive to such as gluten, dairy, soy, peanuts, and/or shellfish.  Stress also exacerbates inflammation, so find healthy ways to manage the stressors in your life. 

4. Essential fatty acids: Just as your brain loves glucose and oxygen, it also loves EFA's. In fact, your brain is composed primarily of fat. In order to balance blood sugar as mentioned above, you'll want to add healthy fats to every meal. These include avocados, olives and olive oil, coconut, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, organic butter, and organic eggs. Avoid the brain damaging fast found in junk food, fast food, fried food, and conventional animal meats. Omega 3 fats are especially great for brain health, and I highly recommend including a fish or krill oil supplement to your diet. 

5. Amino acid therapy*: All of your neurotransmitters are built from amino acids, found in protein-rich foods. Eating a diet rich in protein not only stabilizes blood sugar, but gives your body the materials it needs to maintain healthy levels of serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, and catecholamines.  Even with a good diet, sometimes amino acid levels can be too low for ideal brain health, especially if mental health problems run in your family. If you eat generally healthy and still have symptoms of depression, anxiety, low motivation, brain fog, or fatigue, it is a good idea to have your amino acid and neurotransmitter levels tested. Taking concentrated amounts of specific amino acids can help increase NT levels and give a significant boost to your mental health. 

*The specific aminos necessary to promote healthy levels of serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, and chatecholamines will vary depending on the individual. Consult your holistic practitioner or contact me for more info. 

Summary

Do's:

  • Eat 3 meals per day with protein-rich snacks in between.
  • Aim for 20-30 g protein per meal.
  • Eat lots of healthy fats and omega 3- rich foods. 
  • Exercise.
  • Breathe deeply.
  • Eat anti-inflammatory foods.
  • Supplement with specific amino acids to boost neurotransmitter levels*. 
  • Find healthy ways to manage the stress in your life. 

Don't's:

  • Skip meals.
  • Eat meals high in carbs.
  • Eat excessive sugar or refined carbs. 
  • Eat unhealthy trans fats or hydrogenated oils. 
  • Consume excess caffeine or alcohol. 
  • Hold your breath or breath shallowly. 

*The specific aminos necessary to promote healthy levels of serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, and chatecholamines will vary depending on the individual. Consult your holistic practitioner or contact me for more info. 

Resources: 

Bauman, Ed. Therapeutic Nutrition. Vol. 2. Penngrove, Ca: Bauman College, 2014. Print.

Kharrazian, Datis. Why Isn't My Brain Working?: A Revolutionary Understanding of Brain Decline and Effective Strategies to Recover Your Brain's Health. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Pizzorno, Joseph E., Michael T. Murray, and Herb Joiner-Bey. The Clinician's Handbook of Natural Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2002. Print.

 

 

5 Minute Energy Boosters; Physical, Mental, Emotional, Spiritual

It's 3pm, and you're f***ing tired.

Maybe you sit behind a desk all day. Or maybe you stay at home and run around with your little humans. Or possibly you're a fitness coach and moving non-stop is your job. It doesn't matter who you are or what you do on a daily basis, I will bet my bank account that you get a case of the yawns at some point during the day. We all do, even if not every single day. 

The easy fix may be to reach for another cup of coffee, an energy drink, or sugary snack of sorts. These things can provide temporary energy, but negative effects usually outweigh the short lived boost. Relying on stimulants such as caffeine and sugar can cause blood sugar imbalances, resulting in energy crashes, cravings, mood swings, and hormonal disruption. 

I'm all about moderation and I LOVE my coffee, but it's important to have tools to maintain energy without relying on caffeine. Here is a list of some of my favorite ways to boost energy that you can do in 5 minutes or less. 
 

5-Minute Energy Boosters 

  • Deep breathing: Notice how you're breathing right now. Are you taking relaxed, full belly breaths? If not, you may be taking short and shallow breaths or even holding your breath for short periods. This limits the oxygen that gets to your brain and your body, hence the yawn mechanism.
  • Move: If you're feeling tired and sluggish, moving your body may be the last thing you feel like doing. Even a short walk or several minutes of movement can get the blood flowing and give you a nice burst of energy. Try doing a couple sets of something that requires your whole body, such as 10-15 squat jumps, push-ups, or burpees. If you're concerned about getting sweaty, try a brisk walk or some stretching. 
  • Laugh: Getting some giggles is a great way to shift your energy and lift your mood, especially if fatigue is a result of mental energy expenditure. Listen to a few minutes of your favorite comedy or watch kitten videos if that's more your thing.
  • Gratitude: Low energy is not always a physical issue, but is often mental, emotional, or spiritual. If you're feeling down or sluggish, try taking a few minutes to focus your attention on the good things in your life. Numerous studies are showing that directing your focus to gratitude has a powerful impact on health and happiness. Read more here
  • Music: Listen to a song or two that make you feel AWESOME. We all have those jams that bring back good memories or calm us down. Keep a few on hand for those mid-day blues.  
  • Healthy snacks: As I mentioned above, stimulants such as caffeine and sugary snacks can provide a temporary boost but usually cause a drop of energy later on, leaving you needing more. Have a protein rich snack to promote a steadier release of energy. A protein bar, nuts, hummus and veggies, or a small green smoothie are all excellent options
  • A focused and fun task: Sometimes boosting energy can be as simple as shifting your attention. A fun, yet mentally stimulating task such as juggling, engaging in a sport, playing a computer game, or drawing can give you a temporary break from your work and leave you feeling refreshed and focused. This can be anything that requires all of your attention so that your a taking a "brain break.

The next time you find yourself falling asleep at your desk, try one of these strategies before pouring that tenth coffee. If you're especially tuned in to your energy, take note of whether your fatigue is physical, mental, or emotional/spiritual. Fatigue isn't always about sleep deprivation or lack of healthy snacks. Sometimes it's a result of mentally taxing work or a stressful day. Feeling overwhelmed and frustrated is draining in itself, in which case you may need a gratitude list or comedian. Play around with it, and find what works for you.