Digestion Congestion

Do you ever feel like your whole digestive system is congested? Your stomach gurgles a lot after meals, you feel bloated most of the day, you have more gas and belching than normal and maybe you are even constipated. My energy usually dips when I am experiencing these digestive issues. I don’t like the feeling at all and am often moodier because of it. All around it just sucks.

When I feel like this there are a few approaches I take. First I look at what I am eating and how much I’m eating. There are some foods that I eat that I know aren’t the best for me. They are foods that make my stomach hurt, even just the slightest bit, after I eat them. They are foods that result in inflammation in my sinuses and throat and cause me to have to keep clearing my throat. They are foods that have the potential to give me a mild headache that lasts for a couple of hours. If I eat these foods – for me they are nuts and eggs – too often they cause my digestive system to go down that uncomfortable path. So, for this approach, I completely remove these foods for a couple of week and then add them back in very sparingly – maybe once a week.

Another thing I look at when my digestive system is not working well is my level of stress and how much sleep I am getting. These two things seem to go hand in hand for me. Excessive stress can cause your body to have to work a lot harder than it normally does. When your stomach is all bound up in knots while you are eating you are almost guaranteed to have digestive distress afterwards. I know when I’m not sleeping well I tend to get more stressed out than normal. Little things will set me off and I tend to get that overwhelmed feeling. When I assess the situation and decide sleep and stress are a factor I step back and try to take more time for myself. I take a good look at what is stressing me out and what I can do to change that. I make it a point to go to sleep earlier, I take naps when I can and I meditate every day. I concentrate on my practice of active appreciation – appreciating the good in people and situations rather than complaining.

Moving every day also helps me keep my digestive system in good working order. I walk a lot but I don’t always walk for a long time, sometimes 15 minutes is all I have. But I always feel better after I walk. I’m more relaxed, more focused and I sleep better at night. Sometimes movement for me means other types of exercise – strength training, barre classes, swimming, biking, sprints, etc. I just know when I go too long without moving my body (and mind!) gets out of whack.

If you are feeling digestion congestion know that you don’t have to go on feeling that way. It’s not “normal” and there are definitely steps you can take to get rid of it. Figure out what’s going on and start feeling better!

5 Tips for Awesome Sleep

Do you have a hard time getting a good night’s sleep? Does it take you a long time to fall asleep? Do you frequently wake in the middle of the night? Do you wake up tired and just want to crawl back in bed?

I am just a *WEE* bit obsessed about sleep. It started in my first year of college. Living with my 2 roommates in a 10×10 foot space I realized that I had a hard time sleeping in the same room with others. Especially when those others were a bit noisy coming home from a party at 2 am or clanged about in the morning before heading out to their 8 am class. Back then my solution was to pop a pair of earplugs in and hope for the best. Usually that worked well enough.

Then when I was in my early 30’s I had 2 babies within 15 months. Between pregnancy and those early days of feedings I was up in the middle of the night for what felt like several years. I learned how lack of sleep affected me: I was grumpy, always hungry and felt like I was on the verge of falling apart most days. I figured out how important afternoon naps were for me. I also did a lot of experiments with what aids and tricks would help me get the most restful sleep.

Here are 5 things I recommend you do if you are trying to sleep better:

  • Walk outside every day for 15-20 minutes. Walking is underrated as an exercise and most people don’t realize that it leads to better sleep.
  • Sleep in a completely dark room. Do whatever you have to make your room totally dark: remove electronics, use blackout curtains, etc. Another way to insure that light doesn’t disturb your sleep is to use an eye mask. I have tried many of them but my favorite is a very simple inexpensive mask by EcoTools. It’s the only one I’ve used that I can’t feel on my face. It’s made of bamboo (easily washable!) and is very lightweight.
  • Calm your mind before bed. The hour or two before bedtime is NOT the time to start a new project or finish up that last bit of work. Limit screen time as much as possible so your brain gets the signal that it’s time to start winding down. Take a warm shower and maybe give yourself a brief foot massage. Read some light fiction. Light stretching also helps to unwind.
  • Over the years I’ve tried quite a few herbs that help with sleep. My longtime favorite is Passionflower. It helps me fall asleep, stay asleep and doesn’t cause grogginess in the morning. There are several good brands out there but my favorite is Gaia Herbs. I take 1 of the 700 mg. caplets every night about an hour before bed.
  • The majority of us are deficient in magnesium. Magnesium is a super-important mineral that is essential for good health. It plays an important role in hydration, muscle relaxation, energy production and, crucially, the deactivation of adrenaline. There are different ways to increase your magnesium. One way is through supplementation – my favorite magnesium supplement is Natural Calm. Taking baths in Epsom salts also increases magnesium in your body. Additionally you can try magnesium oil on your feet and legs. An excellent brand is Ancient Minerals. Magnesium also helps with constipation and, if you take more than you can handle, can cause loose stools. So it’s better to start off conservatively with how much magnesium you take and slowly increase the dosage.

So there you go – 5 great tips! Try them out and I can almost guarantee you will be sleeping better quickly.

4 Reasons to Start Meditating TODAY

Stress is a contributor to almost every ailment imaginable, from thyroid disorders to digestive issues to skin conditions. Reducing stress is so important but it’s often difficult for people to commit to a stress-reduction practice like meditation, probably because stress-reduction sometimes seem vague compared with changing your diet, supplements, or exercise routine.

Meditation as a form of stress-reduction has actually been studied in many randomized clinical trials that show concrete, measurable benefits. And, amazingly you can reap most of these benefits in just 10-20 minutes per day!

The two types of meditation most frequently studied are transcendental meditation and mindfulness meditation. The main difference between the two is that with transcendental meditation, you focus on a mantra that you repeat in your head, whereas with mindfulness meditation, you typically focus on your breath. The general idea with both is to quiet the mind and develop greater awareness of your thoughts, feelings and sensations.

Here are the top four reasons you should start meditating TODAY:

  • Productivity and Focus – After meditating regularly for two years I have noticed meditation helps tremendously in boosting productivity and improving focus.  There is convincing evidence that meditation actually causes physical changes in the gray and white matter of the brain, particularly regions responsible for awareness, emotional regulation and memory.  By meditating, you are actually re-wiring your brain to be more effective and efficient.
  • Heart Health – The benefits of meditation aren’t just mental. Several randomized controlled trials have shown significant decreases in blood pressure in participants who regularly meditate. This is so important because high blood pressure is the single greatest risk factor for heart attack.
  • Increased Happiness and Decreased Stress – One of the more widely acknowledged benefits of meditation is improvement in mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.
  • Better Sleep – Lack of sleep is a major contributor to chronic disease. Even when people have time to get adequate sleep, they often can’t fall asleep because their brains are still in high-gear. Good sleep hygiene certainly helps, but by training your brain through meditation to let go of passing thoughts instead of pursuing them, you’ll make it far easier to “turn off” your brain when it’s time to sleep.

The cool thing about meditation is that you really don’t need a huge list of clinical trials to assess its safety and prove that it works. It’s not a drug. There are no side-effects. It doesn’t cost money. So you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

There are tons of free resources online for getting started with meditation. Lifehacker has some helpful information, and the UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center has a free meditation podcast with guided weekly meditations. I also like the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, and some people have found apps like Headspace to be helpful. Check them out and see what works for you!

Fave Podcasts

I love listening to podcasts. I’ll admit I’m a bit addicted to them. I love that you can listen to them while you are doing something super boring like driving in the car for 10 hours or mowing the lawn or cleaning the bathroom. I often listen to a podcast when I am walking alone which makes what can be a boring hour simply fly by.

I’m amazed at how many podcasts there are to choose from. You can find podcasts on every subject from money to science to comedy to sex. But health and wellness podcasts are my absolute favorites to listen to. And, as of late, personal development podcasts run a close second.

So what are my favorite health and wellness podcasts? Here are my top 5:

  • Underground Wellness
  • Fat Burning Man
  • TEDTalks Health
  • Balanced Bites
  • Bulletproof Radio

If you haven’t listened to these before I highly recommend you try them out. I catch them on Stitcher but I’m pretty sure there are lots of other ways to listen.

The Sugar Demon

I’d like to begin by saying I am NOT a sugar-hating fanatic. I’m known in my house as a chocoholic and a day rarely goes by that I don’t indulge in some delicious chocolate. But as a wellness professional I am well aware of the sugar addiction epidemic that we are currently experiencing. Sugar is frequently in the headlines and is often described as toxic.

The average American consumes about 152 pounds of sugar a year. That’s roughly 22 teaspoons every day for every person in America. In comparison, in 1900 the average American consumed only 5 pounds of sugar per year. And the news gets worse: Our kids today consume about 34 teaspoons every day — that’s more than two 20-ounce sodas — making nearly one in four teenagers pre-diabetic or diabetic.

So where are we getting all this sugar from? There are 6000 processed packaged foods available in the United States. Eighty percent of those packaged foods have some form of added sugar. Ingredients are listed on packaged food labels in quantity order, with the highest quantity ingredient listed first. If a form of sugar or any other sweetener is listed among the first several ingredients that means that food is quite high in sugar. However even if no single sweetener is among the top ingredients, there may be several sweeteners listed throughout the ingredients, which together may add up to a hefty dose of sugar.

But glancing at a label to check for sugar can be confusing. Sugar comes in different forms and a huge variety of different names. To name just a few we have: agave nectar, brown rice syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, glucose, lactose and evaporated cane juice. With all these names and many more it’s no wonder we don’t know where our sugar is coming from. However, no matter what the name, sugar is sugar is SUGAR. Every one of these sweeteners are high in calories and all have little or no nutritional value. Total. Empty. Calories.

Why are these food companies all adding in so much sugar to their products? It’s simple. Sugar is addictive. And the food companies want us to be addicted to their food – that’s how they make money. A recent study showed that sugar is more addictive than cocaine. People crave sugar like they crave a drug such as cocaine or nicotine. They lose control when eating sugar and often eat more than they planned. And eating lots of sugar makes you crave sugar again in the very near future. Here’s what happens: Sugar releases an opiate-like substance into your body. Your brain then sees sugar as a reward, which makes you keep wanting more of it. If you often eat a lot of sugar, you’re reinforcing that reward, which can make it VERY tough to break the habit.

Too much sugar is making us sick and overweight. The facts are in, the science is beyond question. Sugar in all its forms is the root cause of our obesity epidemic and many chronic diseases. You name the disease or condition, it’s likely caused by over-consumption of sugar: heart disease, cancer, dementia, type 2 diabetes, depression, and even acne, infertility and impotence.

Sugar affects all of our bodily systems:
– Sugar makes the digestive system acidic, which leaches vitamins and minerals from the body, particularly calcium from bones and teeth.
– Sugar depletes potassium and magnesium which are both essential for cardiac health
– Sugar suppresses the immune system leaving us more susceptible to illness
– Sugar impairs liver function which can lead to high blood pressure
– And sugar also inhibits blood flow and affects aging, contributing to increased wrinkles and dry aged skin.

To thwart the sugar demon some people do a sugar detox in which they go cold turkey with sugar. They take it out of their diet in all its forms including fruit. These detoxes typically last from 10 days to a month. Many believe this is the fastest and most effective way to gain control over sugar consumption. It can also be extremely hard to do if you are addicted to sugar. Sudden removal of sugar from the diet can cause withdrawal symptoms like fatigue, depression, headaches and achy limbs. This is too much for some people to bear and they feel this type of detox is not sustainable and instead opt for a slower process of removing sugar from their diet.

This slower process can be done by taking out one sugar laden meal or snack a week while also lessening the amount of sugar they put in their coffee or cereal. This slowly retrains their taste buds and less sugar is needed for a food to still taste sweet. As a health coach I’ve seen both of these strategies work. It depends on what kind of person you are – a “rip the band-aid off” person or a “slowly peel the band-aid back” person.

I know decreasing the amount of sugar in your diet is not an easy task. We are given sweet treats as rewards from a very early age. It is ingrained into our culture. But the facts are out. Sugar is not benign – it is killing us. It’s time for us to open our eyes and take control of our health.

Hello Mr. Coconut

I don’t have many regrets in life. I do have one big one though. I haven’t eaten enough coconut.

I LOVE COCONUT! I love everything about it – the smell, the taste, the creaminess. I like it in all of its various forms – shredded, chips, milk, cream, water and oil. It’s one of my FAVORITE foods.

Growing up I used to eat those coconut pies. You all know the ones I mean? They were small single serving pies, wrapped up in crinkly plastic. I used to eat them at the pool I went to every summer. I used to scrounge around the pool looking for loose change so I could buy these pies which I think cost about 50 cents.

At some point coconut was proclaimed to be a food demon. Experts advised to stop coconut consumption because it was horrible for your health. Oil made from coconuts actually contains a whopping 85 to 90 percent saturated fat and saturated fat had been thought to cause heart disease. Sadly I gave up my coconut pies and almost all other foods containing coconut. I was determined to eat foods that were good for me. I missed my coconut though!

Several years ago coconut came back onto the nutrition scene in a BIG way. The powers that be had decided that saturated fats are not ALL bad for you. Coconut was on the top of the list of GOOD saturated fats. But why? Coconut contains a fat called lauric acid. Lauric acid is a medium-chain fatty acid that supports healthy metabolism. Our bodies do not store medium-chain fatty acid as fat, but rather use it for energy.

There are quite a few other benefits of coconut:
– It Protects against heart disease by increasing good cholesterol and lowering the ratio of bad and good cholesterol.
– Coconut helps diabetics by slowing sugar release into the bloodstream.
– It prevents strokes and brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
– Coconut is antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral. It also makes a great balm for frizzy hair! It’s an excellent item to have in your medicine cabinet.

Experts suggest that at least two teaspoons of extra virgin coconut oil a day is beneficial. If you are someone who doesn’t currently have coconut in your diet you may not know where to add it. I have a few suggestions for you: Coconut water, coconut milk or shredded coconut is excellent added into a fruit smoothie. I frequently add all THREE of these into my morning protein smoothies, but that’s just me. Coconut oil is the best oil to use for high heat cooking because it is incredibly heat stable. I use it for stir frying quite often. Coconut oil is also really great for baking as it makes cookies and cakes very moist. Coconut and dark chocolate are an AMAZING combination – you can purchase it or make your own by melting down some chocolate, adding in shredded coconut and then letting it all harden in the refrigerator. I sometimes include coconut in all three of my meals. I really can’t get enough of it. I’m making up for lost time!

Its upsetting to me that I spent so many years avoiding such an amazing food. I’m so glad coconut is back on my plate again. I’m never saying goodbye to it again.

Super Simple Homemade Broth

chicken soupIt’s winter and REALLY cold in some parts of the country.  One of my favorite meals in the winter is soup or stew.  I really think I could eat it every day!

Something I have learned in the last couple of years is the difference homemade broth makes in soup or stew.  Broth makes soup so rich and tasty.  It just adds a certain something to the taste that is quite remarkable.  Homemade broth is also excellent for your health.  Some of its benefits are:  excellent source of minerals, immune system booster, improves digestion and it has a high collagen content which makes it fantastic for joints, skin, hair and nails.

And, on top of all this it’s super simple to make.  Start with about 2 pounds of chicken or beef bones.  It’s best to get bones from organic chickens or grass fed cows.  Place the bones in a big stockpot.  Fill the pot with water – about 2 gallons.  You can add other things into the pot as well such as onions, carrots and celery.  Apple cider vinegar is also a great thing to add as the acid makes the nutrients from the bones more available.  Bring this to a boil, cover the pot and then turn down to simmer.  If you are making chicken broth you simmer the broth for 24 hours.  Beef broth should simmer 48 hours.  When time is up let the broth cool and then discard the bones and veggies (if you added them).  Freeze the broth in medium containers – big enough for broth for one soup recipe.

Try this and you will never buy store bought broth again!

Cooking Overwhelm

Why do so many people suffer from poor health these days? There are lots of answers to that one question. However I think one of the biggest reasons is that most people don’t cook. They don’t like to cook, they don’t want to cook and they simply choose not to cook. If that’s what you choose you can absolutely make that happen. The food industry has made it super simple. You can eat a granola bar for breakfast, have McDonald’s for lunch and throw a Weight Watchers frozen meal in the microwave for dinner. Voila! No cooking!

But why do people choose to eat this way? Surely our own home-cooked meals taste better and are more nutritious than the above mentioned foods (if you can even call it food!). Plus it’s often cheaper to make our own meals rather than eat from the drive-thru or out of a box or bag. However, I think many people have never learned to cook and the idea of starting as an adult is rather daunting.

Growing up, my mother was the cook in our family, as was the case for most families in the ‘70’s. She was an excellent cook and we ate nutritious dinners every night. There were seven of us in all to feed as I am the youngest of 5. My older brothers were big eaters so dinners were quite the production, just to get enough food on the table. My mom used to complain a lot about making dinner. In my mind meals used to take hours to prepare – I’m not sure why because I’m pretty sure they didn’t take that long. I think I felt that way because of my mom’s attitude about cooking. She totally had cooking overwhelm even though she was an accomplished cook. But the job was too big and it definitely was a JOB, not a fun, creative thing to spend time on.

Mom was good at delegating lots of chores – trash, dishes, bathroom scrubbing, etc. – but she didn’t delegate cooking duties. And, because of this, I never learned to cook. I’m not sure why she didn’t have us help. Perhaps the feeling of overwhelm didn’t allow her to teach us. Or maybe she wanted to keep control of the cooking because she didn’t believe we’d do a good job. I’m really not sure.

I moved from my parent’s house not knowing how to cook. I knew a few basics like scrambled eggs and grilled cheese but that was about it. College was no big deal – I mainly ate at the cafeteria. But once I got a job and an apartment I started eating out of boxes. I wanted to be sure to stay slim so I ate Lean Cuisines for most of my dinners. For lunch I either ate fast food or packed a turkey sandwich. I just didn’t even know where to begin learning to cook and, honestly, didn’t have much desire to learn after witnessing what my mother had gone through for all those years.

Then I got married. And I married a man who really likes to cook. And he’s a really good cook.   And it’s fun and kind of a big game for him. I began to learn from Zack the basics such as how to bake chicken breasts, grill a steak and sauté spinach. I also learned a lot about spices and herbs and how they can totally transform a meal. I came to the realization that it doesn’t take hours to cook a meal. And, with time, the cooking overwhelm just fell away.

I would like to see cooking at home make a come-back. I would love to see mothers and grandmothers teaching their children and grandchildren how to cook. How much fun it is and how relaxing it can be and how fabulous the food can taste. This one thing will help tremendously in taking back our health.