Come December, we often see stories in the media about “surviving the holiday season.” I would prefer to change things up and offer some tips on not just how to survive, but how to actually thrive during the holidays.
The word “survive,” used in connection with the holidays, pushes the mindset that Christmas, Chanukah, and New Year’s are events to be endured, dealt with but not enjoyed, and perhaps even dreaded. We’re shown photos and video of shoppers getting in fistfights over toys at Wal-Mart, made to feel concerned about the economy when Black Friday isn’t as big a moneymaker for retailers as was forecast, and told that holiday travel will be a nightmare. Every other magazine by the checkout counter warns of imminent holiday weight gain, and promises recipes for low-calorie “treats” made with imitation whipped cream. Ugh.
But we don’t have to engage with this narrative. We can instead remember that the holidays are a time of year to slow down, spend time with our loved ones, and express gratitude for all that we do have and all the people who love us. And it’s easier to get into this frame of mind if you take care of yourself as you prepare for the holidays and keep yourself from getting swept up in the go-go-go! mentality of December.
Remember to exercise. Feast on the holiday days themselves, but every other day this month eat as healthily as you can to help counteract all those cookies and party appetizers. Sugar is addictive—the more of it you eat, the more of it you’ll want—so think about having treats with added sugar only on special occasions. Set aside some time each week all for yourself, and spend that time doing as little as possible. Get enough sleep. And enjoy those moments curled up by the fire with your family or spent playing board games at the dining room table while sipping hot cider. Because these are the moments you’ll remember, the moments when you’ll feel like you’re thriving.
Happy holidays, everyone.
Filed under: Artificial Sweeteners, Chronic Disease, Healthy Lifestyle | Tags: Artificial Sweeteners, Equal, Splenda, Sweet'N Low, type 2 diabetes
“Artificial sweeteners may disrupt the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, causing metabolic changes that can be a precursor to diabetes, researchers are reporting.”
So began a recent article in The New York Times that delved into why it may not be the best idea to recommend artificial sweeteners as a way to help prevent and/or manage diabetes.
The researchers, using mice and then humans in their experiments, found that Sweet’N Low, Splenda, and Equal all altered the population of bacteria in the digestive system. And this altered “microbiome” then led to changes in the metabolism of glucose—the test subjects’ blood sugar rose higher after eating and decreased more slowly than it did prior to the introduction of the artificial sweeteners into their system. After only one week, the mice given the sweeteners developed a “marked intolerance to glucose,” which is the precursor to such conditions as metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes. When the scientists gave the mice antibiotics to kill much of the bacteria in their digestive systems, their glucose intolerance disappeared.
More and more research is demonstrating just how important our gut bacteria is. The right mix of bacteria leads to a stronger immune system and better digestion, for instance, while the wrong bacteria can lead to illness and obesity.
To help the good bacteria proliferate in your gut, move away from not just artificial sweeteners but also sugar, poor-quality fats, junk food, and chemical additives to food; and eat more fermented foods like plain yogurt or kefir, veggies (green veggies in particular), fruits, healthy fats, lean protein, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Your intestines—and your whole body—will thank you.
Filed under: Dairy, Fruits, Healthy Lifestyle, nuts, Recipes | Tags: breakfast smoothies, smoothie recipe
I used to be a cold cereal eater. I grew up on Froot Loops, Apple Jacks, and Cocoa Puffs. In college, my best friend and I ate this stuff called Just Right every single day without fail. As an adult, I drifted from one cold cereal to another, never questioning the idea that cereal should be my breakfast—if Rice Krispies left me hungry in one hour, for instance, then I’d just get a bagel with cream cheese as a second breakfast. After I became a holistic nutrition counselor, I finally did start to ask if cold cereal was the best breakfast for me, and began to move toward healthier fare, like oatmeal with flaxseeds, walnuts, and raisins.
But one day I started to notice that, as healthy as oatmeal is, I was getting hungry 90 minutes or so after eating it, and sometimes my blood sugar even dipped very low at that time, to the point where I felt a little shaky. Oatmeal is wonderful for some people, I realized, but it wasn’t the perfect breakfast for me.
What has turned out to be the perfect breakfast for me (and my husband) is a homemade smoothie. I feel very satisfied after drinking it, and stay full up until lunch. There’s something about the combination of ingredients that I throw in the blender that just really works for me.
So what’s in my morning smoothie? I vary it a bit every day. Here is the template I use to make a 16 oz. serving:
Toss into your blender…
One ripe banana
Then pick another fruit…
½ cup of blueberries, strawberries, mixed berries, mango, or melon all work nicely
Then choose a nut butter…
2 tablespoons of almond butter or coconut butter are my favorites
Sprinkle in seeds…
1 tablespoon of chia, hemp, or flax seeds
Select a liquid…
About 1/2 cup of unsweetened nut milk (I like almond milk) plus ½ cup of water, or 1 cup of plain kefir (if I use kefir, I tend to skip the nut butter)
Add a few ice cubes if you’d like
Blend it all until smooth and you’ve got yourself a super healthy, stick-to-your-ribs breakfast in five minutes!
Filed under: Healthy Lifestyle, Recipes, Vegetables | Tags: root vegetables, yellow and orange vegetables
When you think about healthy eating, salads and green vegetables usually come to mind. But how about adding a little more variety to your plan?
Root vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, and turnips are a rich source of nutritious complex carbohydrates. Instead of upsetting blood sugar levels like refined sweet foods do, they help regulate them.
Why eat more root veggies? Long roots–carrots, parsnips, burdock, and daikon radish–are excellent blood purifiers and can help improve circulation in the body. Round roots–turnips, radishes, beets, and rutabagas–nourish the stomach, spleen, pancreas, and reproductive organs.
If you’re like most of the world, the root veggies you probably eat most are carrots and potatoes. But here are many others you can try:
- Beets contain an abundance of antioxidants and are highly detoxifying.
- Burdock is considered a powerful blood purifier. This long, thin veggie is a staple in Asian and health food stores.
- Celeriac, also known as celery root, is rich in fiber and has a respectable amount of antioxidants.
- Jicama is crunchy and refreshing and contains a generous amount of vitamin C. It’s a favorite in its native Mexico and South America.
- Onions are rich in antioxidants and other phytonutrients, making them prized for their ability to strengthen the immune system.
- Parsnips, which look like giant white carrots, boast a sweet, earthy taste. They’ve also got plenty of fiber, vitamin C, folic acid, niacin, thiamine, magnesium, and potassium.
- Radishes are an excellent source of vitamin C. They’re also rich in calcium and folic acid.
- Sweet potatoes contain unsurpassed levels of beta-carotene and are also rich in vitamin C, phytonutrients, and fiber.
Excited to add more roots to your diet? Here’s an easy recipe …
Roasted Root Vegetables
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 25-35 minutes
Serves 4 to 6
- 1 sweet potato
- 2 parsnips
- 2 carrots
- 2 turnips or 1 large rutabaga
- 1 daikon radish (or substitute/add in other favorites, like squash)
- extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
- herbs: rosemary, thyme, or sage (fresh if possible)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Wash and dice all vegetables into bite-sized cubes.
- Place in a large baking dish with sides.
- Drizzle with olive oil; mix well to coat each vegetable lightly with oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and herbs.
- Bake uncovered for 25-35 minutes until vegetables are tender and golden brown, checking every 10 minutes to stir and make sure veggies are not sticking.
Tip: any combination of vegetables will work. Roasting only one kind of vegetable also makes a nice side dish.
Filed under: Exercise, Healthy Lifestyle, weight loss | Tags: Exercise, healthy, walk, walking
The core classes at the gym are not scheduled at a convenient time for you. The local yoga studio doesn’t feel welcoming to anyone who isn’t already in perfect shape. The perky spinning instructors espousing affirmations make you want to roll your eyes. That’s why you don’t exercise.
You know these are all excuses, and that you shouldn’t let these things stop you from being physically active. But the fact is, they do stop you.
There is one type of exercise, however, that’s pretty tough to complain about. It can be done at any time of day or night, and it can be done anywhere. It’s free. It’s easy. And anyone can do it, even someone who is 100 pounds overweight: WALKING.
Walking may seem like nothing—is there really any benefit to an activity so, well, simple? The answer is yes. There is plenty of scientific evidence that regular brisk walking is associated with better health, including lower blood pressure, better mood, and improved cholesterol ratios. And it does burn a significant number of calories—314 per hour if you weigh 160 pounds, for instance, and up to 469 calories per hour if you weigh 240 pounds, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Going for a stroll on a regular basis will also help reduce your risk of stroke and type 2 diabetes, increase breast cancer survival rates, and reduce fibromyalgia pain.
You really have no excuse not to do this—so put on your sneakers and get out there!
Filed under: Fruits, Healthy Lifestyle, Vegetables, weight loss | Tags: juice cleanse, juice fast, juicer, juicing
If you haven’t tried a juice cleanse yourself, you very likely know someone who has. Or at least you’ve heard about a celebrity who has—Oprah Winfrey, Leonardo DiCaprio, Blake Lively, and Daniel Craig are among the many stars who’ve jumped on the juicing bandwagon.
What is a juice cleanse, exactly? A cleanse of this nature involves forgoing solid food for a number of days and replacing it with fresh-pressed fruit and vegetable juices. The idea is that you’re supposed to be giving your digestive system a rest, clearing toxins out of your body, and kickstarting weight loss. Which all sounds great, except for the fact you’ll likely wish you were dead by day 3.
You will be hungry. Very hungry. You will be cranky. You will be unable to concentrate on the simplest of tasks. You will lose weight. And then you will gain it back.
Detoxing, in theory, is a great idea. I regularly have my clients undergo a detox to help them identify food sensitivities and to help them lose a few pounds more quickly than they might otherwise. But the detox I advocate involves real, actual food—that you chew—and keeps you energized and satisfied. A juice cleanse, while forcing you to forgo the foods/drinks/habits that might be making you ill, also forces you to endure intense hunger, blood sugar peaks and valleys, and an unrealistic way of nourishing yourself that you certainly can’t continue to sustain. As soon as you start eating food again, those pounds you quickly dropped will come right back. That’s what happens after you do a crash diet. Which is exactly what a juice cleanse is—just another crash diet.
Occasional fresh-pressed juices can be a perfectly healthy part of your diet. But as your breakfast, lunch, and dinner for days on end? Forget it.
Filed under: Chronic Disease, Healthy Lifestyle | Tags: how to de-stress, relaxation, stress
Stressed? Here are 16 simple ways to defuse your tension in a hurry—none of which requires a trip to the vending machine for chocolate …
Try a “one-minute meditation.” Close your eyes. For 30 seconds, inhale and exhale quickly, forcefully, and audibly. Each inhale/exhale cycle should last about 1 second total. After doing that for 30 seconds, for the next 30 seconds keep your eyes closed and breathe normally. Then open your eyes. How do you feel?
Sit on your hands or rub them together vigorously. Our hands get colder when we’re stressed, and warming them up helps lower stress.
Try acupressure. Find the spot on the top of your bare foot where the bones of your first and second toes meet. Gently press this area 10 times.
Say no. If you’re already feeling stressed, don’t be afraid to say no if someone asks you to do something you can’t handle.
Turn off the news. It’s easy to feel like part of the chaos we’re watching on TV or on the computer. Research has shown that watching the news can affect mood and aggravate sadness and depression.
Laugh. Laughing dissolves tension and can feel like a real release, even in the most stressful situations.
Put on some upbeat music. And if you’re in a place where you can get away with it, dance!
Smile at other people. Our moods are contagious–if you come across as happy and pleasant, chances are people will be pleasant back to you.
Have half a teaspoon of honey. Doing this will quickly help stimulate serotonin in the brain, leading to a calmer, happier feeling.
Realize that worrying doesn’t make things better. So stop worrying.
At the end of your day, take five minutes to write down the things you appreciated about that day. Calling up positive emotions will help push away negativity and stress.
Make a conscious choice not to become angry or upset. You may not be able to control everything happening around you, but you do have control over your response to any given situation. Take a few deep breaths. Then think about what can be done to resolve the situation, rather than focusing on how angry you are about it.
Do one simple thing that you’ve been putting off–whether it’s returning a phone call, paying a bill, or making a dentist appointment. Getting this thing off your mind will help you de-stress.
Vent to a friend for five minutes. Or write down your thoughts in a journal.
If you’re feeling anxious before bed and fear you won’t be able to get to sleep, have a cup of warm milk. It contains natural opiates called casomorphins.