Stress and your health

Stress. We all know it, and are probably even more familiar with it than we should be. Stress, in the right amount is not a bad thing. Physical and mental stress is what allows us to grow and become stronger. Stress that is overwhelming and prolonged is the kind that takes a toll on our health and sometimes our waistline.

There’s a misconception in the health and fitness world that chronic high cortisol (stress hormone) can make you pack on the pounds no matter how little you’re eating. This isn’t necessarily true, but it’s useful to understand how stress relates to your health and weight.

  1. Chronic stress can wreak havoc on your digestion. When under stress, your body diverts blood and nutrients away from your digestive system and into your heart, lungs, and muscles so that you can “fight or flight” if necessary.

  2. Stress makes it harder to make good, conscious decisions. Again, it’s the “fight or flight” state that causes us to respond to decisions with knee-jerk reactions, and these typically aren’t our best behaviors. Example: instead of planning and cooking a healthy dinner after a long day of work, you revert back to the McDonald’s drive through because it’s comfortable and doesn’t take any extra thinking.

  3. Going through periods (months or even years) of unrelenting stress can dysregulate hormones causing mood swings, sleep disturbances, skin problems, and chronic fatigue. All of these symptoms can make it difficult to exercise and make good food decisions.

  4. Many people respond to stress by overeating, which contributes to weight gain and can further exacerbate feelings of overwhelm.

  5. When cortisol is perpetually elevated, extra calories are more likely to be stored as fat (usually in the midsection), rather than being burned as fuel. However, this is only in the case of a caloric excess.

So you can probably see how all of the above factors can make it really difficult to stick to your weight loss/maintenance goals when you’re going through a lot of stress. Ultimately though, and contrary to popular belief, stress itself isn’t what causes weight gain. It’s how you respond to it.

To illustrate this point, I’m going to introduce you to a couple of my (imaginary) friends.

Stressed-out Susan.

Susan is a nurse who just started working overnight shifts at the hospital. She’s also currently going through a divorce and dealing with two difficult teenage daughters. In other words, Susan is no stranger to stress. When stressed-out Susan is overwhelmed, she turns to food for comfort and eats often even if she’s not hungry. On top of her emotional eating, she feels too overwhelmed and tired to workout. After two months of overeating and missing workouts, Stressed-out Susan has gained ten pounds.

Stressed-out Steve

Now meet Stressed-out Steve. Steve is an undergrad student in the last couple months of his final semester. Steve is drowning in homework assignments, papers, and study prep. Not only that, but he’s unsure of what he’s going to do after graduating and he’s worried about how he’ll make ends meet until he finds work. When Stressed-out Steve is overwhelmed, he completely loses his appetite. He knows he needs to eat but nothing sounds good and anything more than a piece of toast leaves him feeling nauseous. Steve is also consuming more caffeine than normal to keep him going, and as a result his appetite is reduced even more. After two months of this, Stressed-out Steve has dropped ten pounds.

Stressed-out Sally

Stressed-out Sally has been working hard to change her eating habits. Her weight has been steadily trending down until recently. She had to uproot her whole life and move to a different state where she doesn’t know anyone and is starting a new job. Even though she feels overwhelmed, Sally recognizes that the demands of her current situation will make it difficult to continue making healthy changes so she commits to maintaining her weight. She does the best she can with her habits but she doesn’t criticize herself about having to eat fast food occasionally. She is in constant contact with her health coach and her therapist to help keep her on track as much as possible. After two months, Stressed-out Sally has maintained her weight.

Conclusion

All of my (imaginary) friends here are under stress. All of them have elevated cortisol levels over the course of several months. One of them lost weight, one gained weight, and one maintained. All of these outcomes were not as a direct result of the stress, but how they responded to it.

The takeaway for YOU is to understand the science of stress and human physiology but also how your individual behaviors around food, exercise, and sleep change when under stress.

How to Create a Healthy Relationship with Food

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In my last post I talked about our relationship with food and signs of an unhealthy one. If you can relate to any of those, take heart. You’re not alone. We’ve all been exposed to diet culture in some form or another, and it’s this diet mentality that teaches us to fear food and base our morality on what we eat.

Healthy relationships aren’t built on fear, guilt, and anxiety.

The good news is that you absolutely can improve this relationship, but this will take time and practice. You’ve probably been in this dysfunctional relationship for many years, and it’s not going to improve overnight. If trust has been broken in any relationship, it takes some time, effort, and patience to build back up.

Take a look at these ten things you can do to create a more positive experience with food and choose one that you can start working on today.

  1. Become reacquainted with the foods you love. Years of dieting and adhering to strict food rules can leave you with the inability to distinguish between which foods you feel you “should” eat and which ones you actually like to eat. Start to compile a list of all the foods you love the taste of. It doesn’t matter if they’re “healthy” or not, ask yourself if you actually like them. Then slowly begin to incorporate these foods into your diet. You don’t have to go crazy on them, but include them in a moderate way, and when you do, make sure you fully enjoy them.

  2. Learn to eat mindfully. If you’re so accustomed to relying on external rules to guide your eating, it’s time to rebuild the connection with your body. Practice eating without distraction; no phone, no TV, no eating while driving. Sit down, eat slowly, chew your food thoroughly, and allow yourself to experience all the flavors and textures of the food you’re eating.

  3. Learn to listen to your hunger cues. Your body knows exactly how much it needs in order to be healthy and lean, but you have to learn to listen to it. Practice waiting until you’re physically hungry to eat. This means you feel physical hunger in your belly, not lightheaded, tired, or feel the need to crunch on something. This also means learning to distinguish real hunger from other cues to eat; boredom, stress, social cues, external rules, time of day, etc.

  4. Practicing stopping when satisfied, not stuffed. You don’t need to eat beyond feeling comfortably satisfied, even if your calorie tracker tells you that you have 300 more calories in your budget. No calorie tracker or diet program can tell you how much to eat better than your own body. So slow down, get rid of distractions while you eat, and listen for your body’s cues to stop eating.

  5. Develop healthy non-food strategies for coping with stress, boredom, loneliness, fatigue, or anything else that drives you to eat when you’re not hungry. This is essential to rebuilding trust with your body. If you have healthy ways of coping with your emotions, you don’t need to fear those emotions or the overeating that comes along with them.

  6. Allow room for all foods in your diet.  If you tend to eat a lot of the same “safe” foods, try incorporating some more of the “unsafe” ones. The only way to learn to trust yourself around these foods is to expose yourself to them. This takes some practice. You may find yourself still feeling anxious or out of control at first, and you might even overeat. That’s okay. Keep practicing with your unsafe foods, and make sure you do this with as much mindfulness as possible.

  7. Do away with rigid food rules and labels. Rules and restrictions can make us feel safe with food, but ironically it’s these rules that sabotage our progress in the long term. Foods are never inherently “good”, “bad”, “healthy”, or “unhealthy”. Labeling them as such not only narrows our perspective, but also elicits feeling of guilt and anxiety when we break a rule or eat something “bad”. As you learn to trust your body’s huger and satiety cues, it will become easier to ditch the need for food rules.

  8. Let go of the desire for a perfect diet. Many people tend to take an all-or-nothing approach to nutrition. The reality is that a perfect diet is impossible to define and execute. If your only options are “all” or “nothing”, you’ll end up with nothing most of the time. Perfection isn’t necessary to see the results you want, so focus on doing the best you can and viewing setbacks as an opportunity to learn.

  9. Stop punishing yourself for making mistakes with excessive exercise, restricting harder, or wallowing in guilt. You might feel like punishing yourself or compensating for overeating will keep you from doing it again, but that’s never the case. In fact, these behaviors only perpetuate a negative relationship with food. Learn from your mistakes and move on without the guilt trip. Your guilt can’t do anything for you after the fact.

  10. Challenge your negative beliefs. An unhealthy relationship with food has nothing to do with food itself, but is fueled by negative thoughts and beliefs. Your inner critic probably tells you you’re not good enough, that you’re a failure, you should be ashamed of your struggles with food and weight, or makes you feel bad for enjoying ice cream. Just because you think it doesn’t mean it’s true, so practice challenging the thoughts and beliefs that perpetuate an unhealthy relationship with food.

Remember, changing these thoughts and behaviors will take some time. Be patient with yourself as you work through this process!

Which one can you start practicing today?

10 Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship with Food

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“Relationship with food” is a phrase you’ve probably heard before, but what does it actually mean? Your relationship with food defines how you interact with it and the role it plays in your life.

We were born with natural instincts that are supposed to dictate how we eat. This includes eating according to our bodies’ cues and interacting with food in a way that doesn’t induce guilt or anxiety. Unfortunately for many of us, years of over/under-eating and ignoring our bodies needs and wants can disrupt these natural instincts to create a negative experience with food.

Check in with yourself as you read through the following list. If any of these resonate with you, it may be time to reevaluate your thoughts and behaviors around food.

  1. You think about food all the time. If you’re constantly thinking about eating food, preparing food, or avoiding food, you’re most likely depriving yourself of the nutrients or pleasure you need from food.

  2. You deny yourself the foods you crave. Speaking of pleasure, food serves as both fuel and a source of enjoyment. Having a healthy relationship with food leaves room for including the foods you need and the ones you want in your diet.

  3. You suffer from food guilt. If you’re spending precious mental energy beating yourself up over having an extra cookie rather than enjoying it, it may be time to re-evaluate what you believe about certain foods.

  4. You prefer to eat in private. Maybe you feel self-conscious eating in front of other people. Or maybe you feel anxious in environments where there is food that you didn’t prepare yourself and don’t know the ingredients, calories, or macros of.

  5. You cut out entire food groups. Whether it’s fat, carbs, sugar, dairy, etc., cutting out entire food groups is not only unnecessary in most cases, but often leads to obsessing over and bingeing on these foods.

  6. You eat the same foods all the time. You have foods that are “safe” and are afraid to eat anything that’s outside that safe zone.

  7. Emotional eating. You eat for reasons other than hunger on a regular basis; boredom, loneliness, stress, and as a means of procrastinating are all great examples.

  8. You are controlled by food rules or have a black and white mindset toward food. Foods are never simply “good” or “bad” in themselves, nor are there any set in stone rules that the diet gods are holding you to. Putting rigid rules on how and what you eat rather than listening to your body sets you up for an anxious and guilt-ridden experience with food.

  9. You have to compensate for breaking your rules or overeating. Enjoying some pizza or having a couple extra scoops of ice cream doesn’t deserve punishment. Making yourself exercise to work off your mistake or restricting harder the next day doesn’t do you any good. In fact, it continues to perpetuate a negative restrict-anxiety-binge-guilt-restrict cycle.

  10. You don’t trust yourself around food. When you try to abide by strict food rules or numbers, you disconnect yourself from being able to listen to and trust your body. As hard as you may try, you can’t control your body’s needs and wants. The more you restrict and/or seek perfection in your diet, the more your body will rebel by eliciting strong cravings to obsess over and binge on the very foods you try so hard to control. Years of this, and you learn to not trust yourself around food. The good news is, this trust can be restored with some practice.  

Do any of these sound familiar? If so, that’s okay. Most of us have developed some unhealthy attitudes and behaviors toward food over the years. The good news is that these things are learned, and this means they can be unlearned. Your relationship with food can be healed, and trust can be rebuilt between you and your body.

Next week I’ll be sharing steps you can take to rebuild a healthy relationship with food, so stay tuned!

What to do when you don't feel motivated

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I asked you guys this week what you need help with, and the number one request I received was for motivation. So let’s talk here about motivation; what it is, what it isn’t, and what to do with it.

What motivation is: you already know. Moving on!

What is isn’t: reliable for reaching your goals. Relying too heavily on motivation is a big mistake people make when trying to reach a goal. You won’t always be motivated, and you have to learn to do things anyway. More on that below.

If you’re struggling with motivation, check in with these three things:

1. Know your “why”. If you’re trying to make positive change in your life, you have to tap into the motivation behind it. Understanding why something matters to you beyond just wanting to drop some pounds can help keep you moving forward. Ask yourself why you want to eat healthier, exercise, etc.  Don’t just stop at the first answer, either. Continue to ask “why” until you get to the heart of the matter.

Example: “I want to eat healthier because I want to feel better and have more energy.”

Why?

“Because I want to be able to keep up with my kids .”

Why?

“Because I want to be the best parent I can be to my children.”

Etc.

2. Create habits. Think about all the things you do each day that are habitual; brushing your teeth, showering, driving to work, etc. These things aren’t particularly enjoyable, but they don’t require motivation because they’re just ingrained into your routine. If you want to be better at something, make it a habit. Don’t make the mistake of taking on too much too fast. Start small by choosing one (just one!) doable change that you can implement for a few weeks. Work on that one thing until it becomes habit, then add the next thing. If it’s habitual, it doesn’t require motivation. You just do it.

3. Get over it. The main thing to understand about motivation is that it won't always be there for you. Relying on motivation to eat better or exercise is a recipe for failure. If you want to be successful, you have to learn to do things even when you don't feel like it. When you do feel motivated, enjoy it! Use it and roll with it, but expect to have days where that's not the case. Get in the habit (there’s that word again!) of doing things even when you don’t feel like it. Just because you don’t feel like exercising or cooking a healthy meal doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Put your big boy/girl pants on and do it anyway, and you’ll find that you actually feel motivated to do it again.

What do you do to stay on track even when the feels are low?



Honey Almond Chocolate Bars

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These bars of one of my favorite desserts to bring to parties and events, and they’re a hit every time. Let’s be honest though, I don’t always make them to share, and neither should you! :)

Serves: 8-10 squares

Time: 1 hour

Ingredients:

Chocolate Crust:

  • 1 cup almond flour

  • ¼ cup cacao or cocoa powder

  • ¼ cup melted coconut oil or butter

  • 1 Tbsp. honey

  • Sprinkle of salt

Filling:

  • ½ cup almond butter*

  • 2 Tbsp. honey

  • Sprinkle of salt

Topping:

  • ¼ cup coconut oil

  • 1 Tbsp. honey

  • ¼ -1/3  cup cacao or cocoa powder

*Peanut butter is a great option as well!

  1. Line a standard bread pan with parchment paper. Make sure it comes up the sides of the pan as well.

  2. In a mixing bowl, stir together all the ingredients for the crust. Scoop the crust mixture into the bread pan and press it down evenly into the bottom of the pan. Place pan in the freezer to set.

  3. Rinse your bowl, and use it to combine the ingredients for the filling. Remove the pan from the freezer and create a second layer with the almond butter filling.

  4. Place the pan back in the freezer while you stir together the ingredients for the topping. If you like a sweeter chocolate, use about ¼ cup of cacao for this. If you like a darker chocolate, add more until you get your desired taste. Remove the pan from the freezer and pour the chocolate topping over the almond butter layer.

  5. Place back in the freezer and let it set at least 30 minutes. These bars will melt quickly so keep them frozen until ready to serve.

Enjoy!


What to Eat for Health and Weight Loss

When it comes to maintaining optimal health and weight, I focus heavily on building sustainable habits and a healthy relationship with food for both myself and my clients. However, there is still the issue of what foods should actually be going into your mouth. This is a nutrition blog after all!

It’s important to note that I’m not addressing here the amount of food you should be eating (not too much or too little) or the manner in which you eat (slowly, mindfully, and chewing each bite thoroughly) even though those two things are absolutely crucial. This is solely about the stuff on your plate.

Simplicity is key

I’m all about keeping things as simple as possible. The more you complicate your diet, the more likely you are to fail. Besides, there’s no reason to get caught up in the details (precise macros, meal timing, supplements, etc.) if you haven’t nailed down the basics.

Take a look at the following list. These are the six basics of nutrition that optimize appetite satisfaction and sustainability.

  1. Include one palm-sized serving of protein at each meal, or about 30-40 grams. Protein keeps you fuller for longer, stabilizes your blood sugar (and therefore your energy and moods), and is necessary for optimal health.

  2. Include 2-3 fist-sized servings of veggies at each meal. Vegetables provide us with the vitamins and minerals we need as well as keep us fuller for longer.

  3. Include carbs and fat as needed. In each meal you should prioritize protein and veggies first, and then add just enough carbs and fat to leave you feeling satisfied after a meal. The key word here is satisfied, not stuffed! You should feel like you could workout comfortably about two hours post-meal.

  4. Drink at least 64 ounces of water a day. Do I need to elaborate on this? Water is literally life. Everything functions better when we’re hydrated, and it helps minimize overeating and consumption of liquid calories.

  5. Eat mostly whole foods. This includes minimally processed meats, fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, etc. Whole foods generally contain the most nutrients and keep us fuller for longer.

  6. Include “treats” in moderation. Yes, you read that correctly. Intentionally include the not-so-nutritious foods you love in your diet. To have a successful and sustainable diet, it’s essential that you don’t feel deprived. Restricting the foods you love will cause overeating and unhealthy food obsessions. You can absolutely lose weight and maintain great health while enjoying some pizza and beer every now and then!

So before you throw yourself into the next fad diet or program, check your current eating habits against these six things. There’s no reason to waste your time and sanity trying to adjust all the small details unless you can honestly say you practice these things 80% of the time. The other 20% is the wiggle room that allows us to have foods that may not be as nutritious or filling but bring us pleasure and enjoyment.

I challenge you now to choose one (just one!) thing from this list and implement it for the next two weeks. What will yours be?

 

Shrimp Tacos with Cilantro Lime Sauce

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I really don’t care for tacos.

Said no one EVER.

So here’s another recipe released from my 3-week meal plan, and it’s definitely one of my personal favorites. Because, tacos.

Shrimp Tacos with Cilantro Lime Sauce

Serves: 3
Times: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. fresh or frozen shrimp (if frozen, thaw before using)

  • 6 corn tortillas

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil

  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder

  • 1/2 tsp paprika

  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

  • 1 tsp cumin

  • Pinch of salt and pepper

  • Avocado for topping

For the sauce:

  • 1 cup green or purple cabbage

  • 1 cup shredded carrots

  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions

  • 3 Tbsp. sour cream or Greek yogurt or 2 Tbsp. olive oil

  • Juice from 1 lime

  • 1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro

  • salt to taste

  • Pinch of cayenne (optional)

Mix the spices together in a small bowl. Saute or grill the shrimp over medium heat with olive oil and spices until cooked through. In a medium sized bowl, stir together all the slaw ingredients. Serve shrimp and slaw in corn tortillas and top with avocado slices.

Try and eat just 2. I dare you.

Mindful Eating: what dieting can’t teach you

Most people have tried at least a handful of diets or programs to lose weight or improve their health. Problem is, many people have been on one diet or another for so long that they no longer know how to eat without the rules and numbers that they’re trying to adhere to. This would be fine, if it worked. But it doesn’t. Ironically, the people that struggle with their weight the most are the ones that always seem to be on a diet.

It can be scary to do away with diets and the rules that come along with them. We are left to answer some intimidating questions:

How do I know what and when to eat?

How do I know when to stop?

If I don’t have rules, will I just go off the rails and eat everything in sight?

That’s where the skill of mindful eating comes in. Mindful eating teaches you how to tune into your own body for information on when and how much to eat, rather than relying on external cues. 

Your body is the best nutritionist you have, if you listen to it.

What is mindful eating? 

Mindful eating can mean a whole host of things, but I usually define it using these 3 characteristics:

  1. Eating while undistracted. Yes, that’s right, just eating. Not eating while driving or watching TV or browsing Facebook, but being fully present with your food.

  2. Eating slowly and chewing food thoroughly before swallowing. This prevents overeating, allows you to feel when you’re truly satiated, and improves digestion. You might actually taste your food when you do this!

  3. Eating according to hunger. This means eating when you’re physically hungry, not because you’re bored, stressed, or because people around you are eating. It also means stopping when you’re satisfied, not stuffed.

What you gain from practicing this skill:

You stop overeating, naturally: Most people are overeating simply because they’re not paying attention. How many times have you downed an entire bag of Doritos in front of the TV? When your focus is elsewhere, you are disconnected from your body’s satiety signals causing you to overeat. Additionally, you may not fully taste your food, minimizing the psychological satisfaction of eating and therefore causing you to eat more.

You feel satiated on less food: It takes a good 20-30 minutes after eating for our stomach to send signals to the brain telling us that we’re full. Since our fast-paced culture promotes eating as much as you can in 5 minutes, eating quickly causes you to eat way more than you need before you even begin feeling full. When you slow down and take your time, you can accurately guage when it’s time to stop without overeating.

Your digestion improves: Chewing is so underestimated! Many people agonize over which foods are making their bellies angry, when oftentimes is not the gluten, dairy, or nuts that are to blame. Rather, they’re just not chewing properly. Our saliva contains enzymes that help break down food, especially carbs. When you skip this first step of digestion by swallowing large pieces of food, your gut has to pick up that slack. This leaves you feeling bloated and gassy.

You will know if your diet is working or not: There’s nothing wrong with trying to hit a calorie goal or following a program. However, when you ignore your internal cues you miss out on valuable information about how your body is responding to the program. If you find yourself too full or too hungry on a regular basis, it may be time to adjust it. Also, a strict diet can’t account for the day to day fluctuations in caloric needs. Your daily needs will vary depending on your activity level, sleep, stress, and time of the month for women. No diet can tell you how to adjust for this, but your body will let you know every time.

You have a tool that you can use anytime, anywhere, for the rest of your life. We don’t always have control over the food we eat or the quality of it, such as when going to a dinner party, eating out, or when travelling. Regardless of circumstances you can almost always eat slowly, chew thoroughly, and eat according to hunger.

Mindful eating isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it.

This practice forces you to be present with not only your food, but all the emotional experiences that come along with it. It requires you to stop numbing out around food and find better ways to deal with stress, boredom, and other triggering feelings. It’s not easy, and it takes time to learn, but it sets you up for a lifetime of healthy eating in the most natural way possible.

 

Chicken Curry Salad

Vegetarian option

Vegetarian option

Now that my 3-Week Meal Plan is no longer for sale, I’m going to slowly start releasing the recipes that were included in it. For free!

I decided to discontinue sales of my meal plan for several reasons. While meal plans can have some benefits, those benefits are always short-term. In the years that I’ve been coaching people on nutrition, I’ve realized that meal plans are just a band-aid, and while they can help people temporarily, they don’t produce results in the long term.

Here’s why:

  1. Meals plans can’t help you to stop overeating. Lack of a structured meal plan is never the cause of eating too much. Overeating is rooted in habits, unhealthy mindsets, mindless eating, and/or emotional triggers. A meal plan can’t help you change any of those.

  2. You can’t follow a meal plan forever. Even if I write you a perfectly dialed -in meal plan for the next week, month, or even year, what happens when you get sick of the plan or no longer want to dish out the $$ for it? I prefer to teach my clients methods of planning, cooking, and grocery shopping so they have the skills to create their own plans (for free) for the rest of their lives.

  3. Meal plans don’t prepare you for real life. Being able to follow a meal plan assumes that everything goes smoothly; you have the time to grocery shop, food prep, and cook everything in your plan without interruption. The problem is that real life rarely happens that way. Stressful weeks will happen. Vacations will happen. Illnesses, unexpected events, and birthday parties will always happen. Meal plans don’t give you the skills to stay on track with your goals through these real-life occasions.

  4. There is no one size fits all diet. Following a plan or a diet with set rules can be a great place to start for many people. To continue making progress in a sustainable way, you have to learn how to veer off the plan to find what’s right for you. The only thing than can do that for you is time, practice, and patience.

Anyway, while you chew on that food for thought (pun absolutely intended), check out one of my favorite recipes from the meal plan. I love all things curry, so this chicken curry salad hits the spot as an easy lunch option.

Chicken Curry Salad

Serves: 3

Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. grilled chicken breasts OR 15 oz. extra firm tofu

  • 1 yellow bell pepper

  • 1 cup chopped celery (about 1/2 small stalk)

  • 1/2 yellow onion

  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  • 3 Tbsp curry spice

  • 3/4 raisins

  • 2 Tbsp. Greek yogurt

Cut the chicken or tofu* into cubes about an inch in size and chop up veggies. Combine all ingredients in a medium sized bowl and store in fridge. This recipe tastes amazing by itself, served over a bed of greens, or made into a sandwich or wrap.

*If you’re using tofu for this recipe, I’d recommend first sauteing it to make the edges crispy. Heat about a tablespoon of olive or coconut oil in a pan over medium high heat and saute tofu cubes until golden brown.

Enjoy!

Carrot Cake Overnight Oats

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These carrot cake overnight oats are rocking my breakfasts lately. (and that’s saying a lot because I’m pretty attached to eggs and avocado toast for brekky!)

This recipe was originally created as part of my three week meal plan and is still a favorite of my own and my clients. What I love most about it is that with just a few minutes of prep the night before, I have three days worth of breakfasts that require zero cooking in the morning. Oh, and they taste like magic while providing 30 grams of protein per serving! So there.

Carrot Cake Overnight Oats

Makes 3 servings:

Prep Time: 5 minutes, plus overnight refridgeration

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups oats

  • 1.25 soy milk* (any milk will work, I prefer soy for its high protein content)

  • 1 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt

  • 1 cup grated carrots

  • 3/4 cup walnuts

  • 1/2 cup raisins

  • 1/4 cup vanilla protein powder (I like Garden of Life vanilla whey)

  • 1 tsp cinnamon

  • salt to taste

*For a lower calorie option, sub water for milk.

Stir all ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Cover, and let set overnight. This can be served cold or reheated for a hot breakfast.

Enjoy!

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.