What is balance?

I am a wellness educator. I know the right vitamins and supplements to take, and I know what foods to eat for optimal health. I know meditating each day helps keep my mood stable and immune system strong. I know that daily exercise outside will expose me to sunlight and fresh air, and that when I don’t get outside I start to go a little off the rails.

I know that if I try to do everything and be everything to everyone in my world, it feels good at the time but I pay for it dearly later on. Whether it’s with exhaustion, exasperation, or worse, it always comes back to bite me.

Recently I had six week stretch of time that was truly the busiest and most frenetic I’ve ever experienced. I loved most of it. I loved being productive, I loved that the golf events business I’ve been building experienced a surge of activity and that my business partner and I took the challenge and succeeded (and exceeded). I love that my daughter started a new adventure in high school and not only dove right into being involved and enthusiastic, but also made the tennis team (requiring a lot of parental involvement in the form of rides and a cheering section). I love that my wellness business is thriving and growing, too.

What I didn’t love: spending wayyyyyyy too much time sitting in a car. Whether battling traffic or sitting in the parking lot waiting for tennis practice to let out, it left me feeling cooped up and caged. I tried to set up my car to be comforting and useful, even putting a lavender essential oil diffuser in the vent. It helped to a certain extent but didn’t change that I was putting hundreds of miles in every few days. Not healthy for anyone.

I didn’t love being unwilling to let myself off the hook a little bit for doing all the same things I would under “normal” circumstances. I still expected myself to make dinners (failed), attend all the tennis matches (mixed), and be a completely present parent for my daughter’s first month of high school (probably not great). I don’t love that I threw everything I knew about self care and nutrition out the window. It felt a little freeing at the time, but as with most unhealthy practices, it ultimately wasn’t a good choice.

The result of all of this was feeling totally burnt out. Depleted. And sick. When everything wrapped up at the same time: my daughter’s tennis season, a big multi-year co-chair volunteer job, and the three golf tournaments in a row, I thought I would feel a sense of accomplishment and freedom. Instead I just felt…nothing. A classic sign of burnout.

The takeaway from this is NOT to scale back my work. No way. I love what I’m doing and I want MORE jobs, not less. Rather, it’s to stay mindful of the things I know will help me feel balanced and healthy when the flurry of activity comes to a halt. Meditation. Acupuncture. Walks with my dog. Good nutrition. Sleep. Yoga. ASKING FOR HELP. And setting good, old fashioned boundaries on what I’m willing to do. It’s my responsibility to set those boundaries, and like many women, I find it difficult to do. Luckily, life isn’t slowing down and I will have endless opportunities to practice these skills. Maybe, someday, I might even find balance.

I put a call out to my social media community for their thoughts on achieving balance, and this is what I heard. If anything, it was really comforting to know that we have all experienced similar challenges, and I hope you find it helpful, too. Here are a few responses:

“Healthy food, adequate sleep, moving my body and laughs/time with those I love (aka Crappy Dinner Party!)” — Deanna (my amazing friend and neighbor)

” I don’t think true balance is achievable. I feel like I have to intentionally take inventory of my priorities and what may need more of my attention on a particular day/week/month. I gave up trying to “have it all” a LONG time ago because it was making me crazy. Of course my children are my #1, but if I’m not working we don’t have the financial resources we also need as a family. Giving yourself grace as a working parent is also important because let’s face it, you’re going to get some things wrong. If we can give ourselves some forgiveness and bring a healthy dose of a sense of humor, we can navigate the “close to balance” goal in a more enjoyable way!” – Stacy

“(You) must be prepared to let go of things and be clear about boundaries to get close to work toward balance— always a work in progress tho!” – Molly

Please respond below with your thoughts on finding balance. Is it achievable? How do you approach it?

Favorite Podcasts For The New Year

I love a good podcast. I’m going through a phase right now where I just want to learn as much as possible about how to improve my daily life, whether through exercise, mindfulness, life hacks, or any number of “self improvement” type actions. I specifically am attracted to podcasts that are short and sweet. I’ve given up or severely restricted most social media and it has freed up my brain for so much more useful information. Which means I’ve been listening to podcasts like crazy lately! Below are my current five favorites, plus one that I’m excited to start listening to when it premiers later this month.

Last summer I binged on what to this day is one of my most favorite of all podcasts, Happier In Hollywood. It’s hosted by two female television writers who have been writing partners since high school. While some of what they cover is lighthearted and fluffy (like how to find the perfect black purse), they are also full of excellent job, life, fitness, nutrition, and other advice that I find so useful. They have great guests. And it’s just really fun to boot.

Happier in Hollywood is an offshoot of the Happier podcast by Gretchen Rubin. Gretchen is a writer who researches happiness and her books The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, to name a few, might sound familiar. Her podcast is also chock full of advice, all of which is designed to help you maximize your happiness quotient.

I recently discovered The Magic Pill, a podcast hosted by a Harvard Medical School physician and a health journalist. Each snippet (they are all around 8 minutes or so) is full of great information geared to inspire us to make exercise a regular part of our life. We learn the science behind exercise and all the other benefits. This is a 21 day podcast in which each day you receive an email with that day’s episode. It’s fast, it’s fun and it’s full of great info.

NPR’s Life Kit has a similar podcast called Exercise: Learn to Love It (Or At Least Like It) and it’s similarly endearing. The first episode features Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s personal trainer. It’s about 20-ish minutes long, which is the perfect amount of time to go for a brisk walk while listening.

NPR’s Life Kit also has a new podcast called Eat Your Way To A Healthier Life which premiers in mid January. I’m including it here because the promo sounds great and I’m really excited for it. I also really respond to measured, scientifically-backed nutrition advice that isn’t sensationalistic.

And lastly, I will be listening intently to Side Hustle School. For anyone who has a “side hustle” (aka: a second venture beyond your full time job or something else you do on the side even if you don’t have a full time job that provides extra income and can help satisfy your entrepreneur cravings) or anyone who aspires to have a side hustle, this is a great podcast. Most episodes are 10 minutes or less and all are full of great insight and advice.

One more fun tidbit: if you have a podcast you love and want to introduce someone to it, you can use the Gift of Podcast free printable. It’s great for people in your life who don’t know how to use podcasts, as the printable gives step by step instructions. There’s also a spot for you to write the name of the podcast as well as why you recommend it. I put one in my husband and daughter’s stockings this year.

What are your favorite podcasts? Comment in the section below!

Make Your Own Body Scrub

My skin gets so dry in the winter here in Minnesota. Not only is the weather frigid outside but the forced heating inside just parches my skin. It gets itchy and irritated. Body scrubs work great to help slough off the dead skin cells and add some moisture back, but they are really expensive. I am also really sensitive to scents and perfumes, so several years ago I started to make my own body scrubs. They could not be easier and when you make your own you can add any essential oils and scents that you want. You are also in control of the what’s in there, so can avoid a lot of chemicals and additives.

I like a sugar based scrub rather than salt, as it’s gentler on the skin. I also love using almond oil because I adore the scent. Below is my super simple recipe for body scrub. Make some for yourself, and use pretty jars and ribbons to make a really simple holiday gift for your friends and family.

SUGAR BODY SCRUB

1 cup granulated sugar (I like to use raw sugar because it’s a pretty color)

1/2 cup or so of the oil of your choice (I usually drizzle it in until I get the consistency I like)

A few drops of essential oil. With almond an orange oil would be lovely, but anything you  like will work

Use a fork to mix everything together and store in a glass jar

Use all over your body, being careful not to get on the bottoms of your feet if you’re in the shower.

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StopTober?

I have been thinking about this word for several days now. It’s a mashup of “Stop” and “October” and apparently some people in the wellness and self-improvement world use it as a chance to try to stop a bad habit. I have also heard it more specifically referred to as “SoberTober” amongst people who take a break from drinking any alcohol during the month of October.

So ,what habits are people trying to stop? Drinking. Smoking (in England, the National Health Services, or NHS, uses the word for their stop smoking campaign). Eating junk food, gluten or sugar. Swearing. Watching TV. Overspending. Going through the drive through. And on and on.

Part of me loves this idea. So many of us wait until January to decide to cut out unhealthy or unhelpful habits (and sadly, the majority of us fail). This sort of gives us an opportunity to address things that are bothering us during a time of year when we are ramping up our eating, drinking and celebrating.

The other part of me would like to see people focusing on adding healthier behaviors rather than stopping or giving up something. There is real value to the “crowding out” philosophy, where you crowd out unhealthy behaviors with healthier ones. It’s a bit gentler and for many people this approach works better. But, I am a moderator, which means I can eat just a half of a cookie or drink a half of a glass of wine. So for me, the crowding out approach works. But I appreciate that many people do better abstaining than moderating, and need firm guidelines.

I am going to do a little experiment for the month of October. The one thing I really have trouble moderating is my iPhone usage. I am on it most of the day (reading articles, researching, emailing, texting family and friends, and yes, scrolling through my social media feeds). I am not happy with the amount of time my hand is tethered to my phone, so while I am not going to give up my phone completely, I am going to set limits. The new iPhone update has a “Screen Time” tab in the settings. You can keep track of how much time you spend using certain apps and set limits on them. I was shocked to see how much time I have spent on my phone over the last few days. And although yesterday I “only” spent a total of just over two hours on social media, I spent almost two full hours texting.  Another way to help me stop the habit of picking up my phone whenever I’m bored is to use the Forest app more often. You can grow virtual trees if you don’t use your phone for a set amount of time. And when you’ve racked up enough points, a real tree will be planted.

Is there something you’d like to give up in October? Or do you think it is a silly idea? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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Ginger Turkey Stir Fry — A New Recipe For Depression Support

I received a lot of feedback and traffic to the blog when I posted the High Protein Smoothie recipe for depression nutrition support. The post seemed to strike a nerve, and it’s no wonder. Depression and anxiety are on the rise. Kids, especially, are suffering at ever increasing rates. According to a New York Times article today: “In 1985, the Higher Education Research Institute at U.C.L.A. began asking incoming college freshmen if they “felt overwhelmed by all I had to do” during the previous year. In 1985, 18 percent said they did. By 2010, that number had increased to 29 percent. Last year, it surged to 41 percent.”

In 32 years, the rate of U.C.L.A. freshman who feel overwhelmed rose by over 200%. This is startling.

I can’t begin to address the issue of depression and anxiety in depth like mental health professionals can. It’s an intricate problem with many factors, and I primarily focus on the nutrition aspect. But, I can say that we as a civilization seem to be moving further away from spending time together in person. People feel isolated and alone. This is one reason why I proposed Crappy Dinner nights, which have taken off like gangbusters and are now a weekly occurrence amongst my friends. Another factor that has been studied is our lack of time in nature. Children are given less time to play outside during school and adults spend most of their days indoors as well (I wrote a post about this, you can read it here).

One thing I know for sure is that our diets, what we eat and drink, is negatively affecting our mental health. Inflammation plays a role in our mental well-being, just as it does with cardiovascular, metabolic, and brain health. When we eat mostly pro-inflammatory foods like highly processed flours and sugars, our brains aren’t being fed what they need to be happy and healthy. Our gut health, which is a key factor in the health of our other bodily systems, is worse for the wear when we eat these pro-inflammatory foods. If our gut microbiota is out of whack, so is the rest of us. You can read about it in the paper titled “The Gut-Brain Axis: The Missing Link in Depression” in Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience. In the conclusion, the authors write: “Poor diet is a risk factor for depression; thus, a healthy diet may prevent depression. Regulation of the gut microbiota using diet, probiotics and FMT may have important benefits for preventing and treating depression”.  For those wondering what FMT means, it’s fecal microbiota transplantation, which is a process used for certain gastrointestinal diseases like Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis.

To be clear: I do not believe people who are depressed or anxious can magically cure themselves with diet. If it were that easy, no one would be suffering. But I do believe diet can play a role in mental health and wellness, just as it can when we are battling cancer, heart disease, or diabetes. It’s a piece of the puzzle.

So, my advice to anyone with depression or anxiety is to, little by little if that’s what’s feasible, add in some anti-inflammatory foods to your diet. Try to crowd out the cookies and crackers with whole foods like high quality proteins, fats and complex carbohydrates. These foods will nourish your brain and help reduce inflammation. Use lots of herbs and spices a.k.a. “booster foods”. And please, don’t ever go off any medications or treatments without the express consent from your doctor. 

See below for an easy and delicious Ginger Turkey Stir Fry recipe. If it were me, I’d make the brown rice using frozen pre-cooked rice from the grocery store. It saves a lot of time and leaves you one less pot to wash. If you feel like having chicken or beef, use that instead. Opt for high-quality, grass fed meat as much as possible. They are higher in Omega-3 fatty acids. 

**I am not a doctor nor am I qualified to give medical advice. Please see a licensed medical professional for any medical concerns you might have.

 

 

RECIPES FOR ANXIETY_DEPRESSION

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The Importance of Zinc

Vitamin D, The “Sunshine” Vitamin

sunshine drawing.png

This time of year, when the weather starts to hint at warming up in colder climates, you might think that you don’t need to supplement with vitamin D anymore. Or maybe you’ve never supplemented and think that because you live in a more temperate place like San Francisco or Kansas City that you get enough from the sun. But the truth is, if you draw a line from Atlanta across the U.S. and your city falls above it, you won’t get any meaningful vitamin D from the sun most of the year. Additionally, many people aren’t good “converters” of vitamin D, meaning they might get a lot of unprotected sun and still not have adequate levels of vitamin D.

It’s for all those reasons that supplementing with vitamin D is a good idea. And because so many of us wear sunscreen religiously throughout the summer, I don’t even stop taking my supplements in the warmer months (although I do cut back from about 3,000 IUs a day to 1,000 IUs). Read and print this informative page for more important vitamin D information.

***I am not a doctor and I am not qualified to prescribe any therapy or medication. Please always check with your practitioner before you start taking any new supplements. Vitamin D

Fats, Carbs and Protein For The Win

I have always struggled with my blood sugar. I am infamous in my family for getting, shall we say, cranky if my blood sugar dips. I regularly get a little lightheaded upon standing if it’s been too long since I last ate, and there have been times when I have gotten sweaty, shaky, and nauseated from waiting too long to eat.

I always just thought that this was how I was built. I couldn’t understand it when people told me they regularly skipped meals. I couldn’t fathom how that was even possible. In my recent studies to become a Nutrition Consultant, I’ve been learning a lot about blood sugar irregularities, also knows as dysglycemia. Because of regular blood tests, I know that everything else is functioning normally, and so far my low blood sugar issues haven’t caused any damage. BUT, left unchecked, high or low blood sugar can lead to all kinds of problems. We all know diabetes is a huge problem in our country, and chronically high blood sugar can (and probably will) lead to a Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis somewhere down the line unless you get it under control.

The good news is there is a lot we can do with our nutrition to help stabilize our blood sugar. Last week I started a concerted effort to make sure every single snack and meal contained a healthy fat (think nuts, avocado, fish, whole fat yogurt, olives, olive oil), a healthy carb (like those found in sweet potatoes, sprouted grain toast, or an apple), and high quality protein (again, nuts and fish and yogurt, but also chicken, legumes, a hard boiled egg, or hummus). Plus for each meal, lots of non-starchy veggies. I also have been giving myself a snack a couple hours after breakfast. I used to try to just hold out until lunch, but would find myself literally counting the minutes until 11:00 a.m. Ever since I’ve made these changes, It has made a HUGE difference in my hunger levels. It used to be that every afternoon between about 2 pm and dinner time, I would be ravenous. Normally that’s when I would inhale too many crackers because my blood sugar was low and simple carbs were what my body was begging for. But for the last week my blood sugar feels quite stable. I can wait until 12:00 or 1:00 for lunch now that I’m having a snack. And that period between lunch and dinner is no longer excruciating (because I’m nourishing my body with what it needs earlier in the day). I’ve been on vacation with family and have been so much more flexible in when we eat our meals because I’m not feeling like I might pass out if I don’t eat rightthisverysecond.

I don’t know if my weight will change, and quite frankly I don’t care. I like the fact that I feel healthier, more flexible about my eating schedule, and less cranky. I’m sure my family will enjoy those benefits as well.

So, if you feel like maintaining an equilibrium with your blood sugar is an issue, try this method. It takes a bit of planning, but it is worth it. And please check back in with me and let me know if it works for you!

For healthy snacking ideas, click here.

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