Are Obesogens Making Us Fat?

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When we think of our waistlines and how to lose weight, we commonly focus on exercise and diet. If we don’t eat “x” food we’ll lose some pounds, or if we only would start running we’ll finally slim down. That’s what all the blogs and magazines have certainly led us to believe. I am all about the importance of exercise and diet on health, but what if I told you there was something else just as important that many of us overlook?

Let’s say you do eat well and exercise regularly and still the weight doesn’t budge. Maybe you’ve been recently diagnosed with a thyroid condition or hormone imbalance and have no idea where it may have come from. Perhaps you have endometriosis, horrible PMS, and acne up the wazoo.

All of these conditions can be caused by obesogens, or toxic compounds (toxicants) that have been found to accumulate in fat tissue, leading to fat loss resistance, and to disrupt the endocrine system, leading to the hormonally-derived conditions I listed above.

In short, obesogens can make us obese by accumulating in the fat tissue, making it difficult to burn fat, and trigger the body to store more fat. On top of this, if these toxicants disrupt your endocrine system to the point of negatively impacting your thyroid (the master regulator of your metabolism and many, many functions in your body), it may be even harder to lose weight.

Obesogens can also create oxidative damage in the body by the production of free radicals, which wreak havoc and damage our DNA and cells. This can lead to decreased energy and fatigue, a slower metabolism, and an increase the body’s inflammatory response, which leads to increased disease risk and rate of aging.

I don’t know about you but obesogens sound like substances that I want to avoid at all cost. So where can we find them in our everyday life and what can we do to minimize them?

5 Sources of Obesogens:

  1. Phthalates – Chemicals found in cosmetics and common household products known to disrupt the endocrine system and negatively impact the thyroid. If a label includes the words “fragrance” or “perfume” it more than likely contains phthalates. Other sources include plastic food and beverage containers, insect repellants, hair spray, nail polish, deodorants, air fresheners, laundry detergents, and perfumes.

  2. BPA – Chemical found in plastic and the lining in canned goods that has been linked to cancer, increased risk of heart disease, and hormone disruption and is thought to be harmful to child development. Common sources include ziploc bags, water bottles, baby bottles, and tupperware.

  3. Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) – Toxic chemicals that adversely affect human health and the environment which persist and accumulate over long periods of time and can pass from animal to animal up the food chain. These are the synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides that became household names following WWII. Commonly known POPs are DDT, PCBs, and dioxins.

  4. Metals – Heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and arsenic. If you’ve heard anything about the Flint water crisis in Michigan you will know that lead is no good.

  5. Added Hormones – If we eat meat and dairy from livestock treated with hormones, there is a pretty large chance we will consume traces of these hormones in our food. Unfiltered tap water can also contain traces of medication from people flushing pills down the toilet.

5 Ways to Eliminate Obesogens:

  1. Use glass or stainless containers and water bottles. If you use plastic, make sure it specifically is labeled BPA free. Also look for canned goods labeled as BPA free. Most importantly, do not heat food in a plastic container that is not BPA free.
  2. Eat the rainbow. This will help ensure you get plenty of antioxidants to fight free radicals produced by obesogens you may be exposed to. Also, eat organic whenever possible, especially with meat and dairy, and with produce in the Dirty Dozen list published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
  3. Get your sweat on. Obesogens can be excreted through the sweat glands. If working out isn’t your thing spend some time in a sauna.
  4. Take an epsom salt bath. Hot baths can help you sweat (see #3 above) and epsom salts help draw toxicants out of the body. You can buy a huge bag of epsom salts on Amazon or at your local drugstore for a pretty reasonable price.
  5. Clean up your personal care products. Do not buy products with the ubiquitous “fragrance” or “perfume” on the label. Take a good look at the chemicals in your household cleaning products, make-up, skincare products, and air fresheners. The Environmental Working Group is a veritable gold mine of information. EWG’s Skin Deep Database rates cosmetics and the Healthy Cleaning Guide ranks 2,000 household cleaning products.

If you’re anything like me, all of this information may be a little overwhelming. Do I really have to throw out all of my tupperware, cleaning products, and make-up?!? My recommendation is to start small and as you use things up, replace them with healthier, cleaner alternatives. And yes, kick the plastic tupperware and water bottles to the curb pronto.

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Photo Credit – Image courtesy of theilr on flickr

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Prescribing Fresh Food for Weight Loss

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Imagine this… You are struggling with losing some extra pounds and may have a chronic health condition (or two). Your medical bills just keep rising and the number of prescriptions you take just grows. You feel like absolute crap and can’t get motivated to stick to an exercise and diet plan. You are stuck in a rut and need some serious help.

You’d expect your doctor’s office to be the first place to get that help, right? In an ideal world, yes, but in many cases doctors aren’t trained to help patients with nutrition and exercise. They are trained in medical school on how to treat a condition with medication, which is only reinforced by drug reps that frequently stop by their offices to market their products.

As I have discussed in past posts, prescription medication is like a band-aid. It will treat the symptom and you may feel better for a little while, but does it actually fix the root cause of the problem? It takes many years for the body to develop chronic conditions, so it makes sense to me that it will take more than just popping a pill to heal them.

I can go on and on about the failures I see in our current medical system but I’m all about focusing on the positive, so I’m going to talk about a healthcare firm that seems to be doing it right (yay!). I heard a piece on NPR this week about Geisinger Health System’s fresh food pharmacy pilot program for 180 low income patients with Type 2 diabetes, which is aimed at helping them to change their diets and lose weight.

Under the program, patients receive free, fresh foods every week and work with registered dietitians to learn how to prepare healthy meals. Instead of going home from the doctor with a prescription to fill at their local pharmacy, they go home with five days worth of nutritious food.

The results seen so far have been life-changing for the participants. All of the patients have seen decreases in blood pressure and blood sugar levels, lost weight, and many are on track to reduce their medication in the future. Also, just as important, they are saving money. Program leaders expect about $24,000 in health care costs will be saved for these patients, but it is still too early in the program to provide a definite amount.

This study highlights a few things, the first being that changing dietary habits and eating real food that is grown in the ground can really make a difference in health, to the point that patients may be able to reduce or come off of medications in the long-term.

It also highlights a huge barrier to health, which is access to fresh food and the knowledge of what to do with it in the kitchen. Outdated government subsidies favor corn and soybean crops, which make up the majority of U.S. farmland. It’s understandable; farmers stand to make the most money if they grow them as opposed to other things. But the abundance of corn and soybeans has led to products such as high fructose corn syrup other processed ingredients that make up a large part of what sits on grocery shelves.

Subsidies have also helped to make processed food cheap and more easily accessible to the masses. Sadly it is hard for many people to get fresh food, let alone afford it. Processed food is so ingrained in our culture that I’m sure some in our younger population don’t even know what fresh food looks like. Basic nutrition and how to grow vegetables such as lettuce, tomatoes, spinach, beans, peppers, and squash in a garden should be taught in primary school. And, call me crazy, these types of vegetables are what should be subsidized and made more readily available by our government.

Lastly, it points out a change that is slowly taking place in our healthcare system. Until now our healthcare system, referred to by yours truly and this NPR piece as a “disease-care” system, has been largely reactionary. We treat an illness after it occurs; we don’t focus on what to do to prevent illness in the first place. But this program is an excellent example of prevention-oriented medicine, which I believe is a field that will only continue to grow.

I hope that this program continues to get press and the recognition it deserves for the strides it is making in patient health and outcomes. They are truly making a difference in the long-term health of these people and their families, who also benefit from the fresh food pharmacy. This program is a shining example of the future of medicine in America. A future that is currently just a tiny speck on the horizon but slowly, oh so slowly, getting closer.

 

Source – Fresh Food By Prescription: This Health Care Firm is Trimming Costs and Waistlines

Are We Too Clean?

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Is our obsession with being clean, shunning dirt, and taking antibiotics every time our nose gets runny or we feel under the weather actually hurting us? Are we overdoing it with the anti-bacterial soap and the pill popping? Some expects in the field of medicine certainly think so.

I saw an article in The Economist not too long ago on the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and its recent meeting, which discussed the hygiene hypothesis. The hygiene hypothesis tries to explain why some illnesses, such as asthma, eczema, and type-1 diabetes, have become more common in first world countries while, due to improvements in hygiene, many diseases have become much more rare.

My childhood was filled with endless days spent outside playing sports, walking through the creeks behind my house, helping my parents in the garden, and sampling the local honeysuckle bushes. My immune system was exposed to all sorts of bacteria and, as a result, had a lot of practice learning what bacteria was good and what was bad. Life was much different back then than it is now. Our obsession with unnatural cleanliness has only grown with time and neighborhood safety is much more on the front of parents’ minds (are kids even allowed to walk a mile to school anymore like I did?).

As discussed in the article, asthma is caused by an immune response resulting in chronic inflammation of the airways. Studies have shown that farm-raised children are less prone to it than city-raised ones, that children born by Caesarean section are more likely to develop it than children born naturally (children born vaginally get their first dose of bacteria as they pass through the birth canal), and that children treated more often with antibiotics are also more prone.

Why is this? Well it all comes down to the gut. A study in Canada found that infants deficient in four types of bacteria were 20 times more likely to manifest the predictive indicators of asthma. This same study was repeated in Ecuador where it was also found that gut bacteria in infants can predict susceptibility to asthma, though the particular bugs in this study were completely different than the ones from the Canada study.

Scientists are working on the why and the where we go from here, but I thought these findings were fascinating. Since being diagnosed with a gut imbalance myself, I have read a lot on gut health and learned that pretty much everything we eat and expose ourselves to on a daily basis impacts our microbiome. This includes what you eat, the quality of the food you eat, the lotions and makeup you put on your face and body, the vitamins, medications, and supplements you take, how much you exercise, and even your stress levels.

I took medication to treat acne for at least a solid 10 years of my life, which almost certainly contributed to the gut dysbiosis I am working hard to resolve today. While antibiotics kill bad bacteria, they also kill good ones that help our body to function optimally. I’m also a C-section baby, so possibly was more prone to gut imbalances from the beginning.

Regardless of your background and your current state of health, here are a few tips I have learned that are crucial to maintaining a healthy microbiome:

  1. Eat Real Food – A diet filled with processed food and artificial sugars will feed bad bacteria and yeasts, causing them to grow and multiply. Over time this leads to a less diverse microbiome. It has been found that microbiomes are less diverse in obese people.
  2. Eat Organic – Especially produce, meat, and dairy, if at all possible in your budget. Round-up, a common pesticide sprayed by farmers on crops, contains a herbicide called glyphosate, which is antimicrobial. It disrupts the normal gut flora and reduces the number of good bacteria when you eat foods that contain it. If you eat meat and dairy from animals treated with antibiotics, you absorb those antibiotics too.
  3. Avoid Hand Sanitizers – They have been linked to environmental allergies and atopic diseases (asthma, food allergies, atopic dermatitis).
  4. Use Antibiotics Only When Needed – A round of antibiotics can decimate your gut flora, including both the bad and good bacteria. Antibiotics also do not treat viral infections. If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic make sure you understand exactly why.
  5. Get Outside – Play in the garden, go puddle jumping, hike your favorite trail, play fetch at the dog park, or lay in the grass and read a book. Nature is filled with good microbes and your immune system may need a little bit of practice. What better way to celebrate Spring?

Oh, and Happy Earth Day folks.

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The Disconnect Between Healthcare and Public Health

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Recently my job and my passion for health and wellness came together for a brief moment in time and it was absolute magic. Not often does this happen to an accountant with a love for fitness and health, so let’s just say my inner nerd was really happy. While the actual event was not terribly exciting (I was taking an online continuing professional education course for my CPA license), the content, which covered our healthcare system, managing costs, and improving patient outcomes, was. Now that’s right up my alley!

Take a moment to imagine all the things in your life that impact your health on a daily basis. This list is pretty long right? It basically encompasses almost everything in your day, from how you sleep, when you wake up, what you eat, who you interact with, to how you feel and think throughout the day. It also encompasses the environment in which do you all of these things. These various aspects of our life are called social determinants, or more simply put, economic and social conditions that impact health.

They can be grouped in the following major buckets: where you live, what you eat (or don’t eat), access to transportation, education level, social network (family/friends), and employment and income. Studies have shown that approximately 80% of our health is determined by these factors. Makes sense right? In general, someone who is homeless and doesn’t have regular access to food, is relatively uneducated, and has no social support network will normally suffer from greater health issues than a middle class, educated individual who has a home, job, and family.

Here’s the catch. While social determinants account for 80% of our health, 88% of healthcare investment is in clinical care and doesn’t even consider these factors. This is a huge disconnect. As I have said before in my recent post on functional medicine, our medical system currently only treats the symptom, the clinical issue at hand. It does not take into account the other factors in a patient’s life that may be impacting their health in a big way, which are usually these social determinants.

Even if the system can treat an individual’s issue through care, who’s to say that it won’t come back again due to some other aspect in their personal life that is completely outside of the current realm of medicine? Maybe this person lives in a food desert and the only food they can afford and have access to is fast food. Maybe this person is super stressed out at their job and working long hours. Maybe this person is a single parent just trying to get by. The possibilities are endless and unique to each individual.

There are so many “ifs” and it is causing us money. In case you haven’t heard, we are a fairly unhealthy lot. We have the highest rate of of obesity among OECD countries (OECD stands for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). Obesity alone costs us about $245 billion a year. Add in cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s and the numbers add up fast.

So what can we do about it? Focus on these social determinants. In my opinion, the best way to do this is through health coaches. Individuals who are trained in nutrition and healthy eating but also have an understanding of how all aspects of our lives impact our health.

Health coaches can work with doctors to implement a protocol based on each individual patient’s needs. Most importantly, coaches can provide ongoing help to individuals so that healthy changes are actually achieved, because we all know someone who’s gotten a recommendation from their doctor and never ended up following through on it. For those who need assistance with housing or other basic needs, they can team up with social workers and aid organizations.

I am imagining one big network of care that extends beyond the hospital or doctor’s office.

As I am a trained health coach I may be a little bit biased about how beneficial health coaches could be to the system, but the facts above really show that there is a need. Our current system is failing.

We are headed in this direction, slowly but surely. My health plan at work actually has monetary incentives that encourage you to speak to a coach about things such as stress, weight loss, and mental health. Maybe ten years from now health coaching will be an accepted thing that everyone uses and not just a niche thing for people with disposable income or a job that provides good benefits. I sure hope so, especially for those on the lower end of the income spectrum who sometimes need these services the most.

This post isn’t meant to be a sales pitch; I’m not actively practicing health coaching, nor do I really want to. It is meant to show the reality of where we are as a nation and where I think we are headed. That there are other avenues out there to achieving health besides going to the doctor and getting a prescription. Health coaches can assist you in finding health through areas that many doctors are not trained in, such as nutrition and exercise. They can be a great compliment to the work you do with your doctor.

If this intrigues you I strongly recommend you take a look at what coaching options are offered by your insurance plan and talk to your doctor to see if they have any recommendations. There are so many coaches out there that even a basic Google search will probably bring up a plethora of options.

Here’s to you achieving health in the way that works best for you!
Sources:  Deloitte Development LLC

8 Tips for Achieving Your Goals

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This week marks the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere. I don’t know about you but this makes me seriously excited. I’m not particularly fond of winter and all its baggage (lack of sunshine, snow, ice, bitter winds, and bone-aching cold, to name a few) so am inwardly cheering at this change in the tides. This girl is ready for some fresh flowers, buds on the trees, and sunshine. Halle-freaking-lujah friends.

Apart from these very welcome changes, I also think of the shift from winter to spring as a great time to bring about positive change. We are emerging from the doldrums of winter with new energy and excitement, burying our coats at the back of the closet and dusting off our sandals. What better time to celebrate this transition than to use that renewed energy towards a goal you’ve been meaning to work towards?

My philosophy about goals and change is fairly straightforward. Whether you are looking to change your diet, be more active, de-stress, or really whatever, keep these rules in mind.

  • Keep it simple. If you have grand plans break it into bite-sized pieces and do them one at a time. For example, if your goal is to lose a certain amount of weight by swimsuit season, maybe try to lose “X” amount of weight by Memorial Day. Putting a number and time limit to a goal makes it more actionable.
  • Make it realistic. And healthy for that matter. Losing 5 pounds in a week is not healthy or realistic, nor is it sustainable. Humans in general like things to happen immediately or within a fairly short amount of time. But it took you awhile to get where you are, so it may take some time to get where you want to be. Personally, I look at my health as a long-term game, with the efforts I put in now paying off in dividends later, similar to how an investment account accrues interest over time (sorry, as an accountant I just had to throw that in there).
  • Find a partner. Whether it is a friend to do it with you or someone to hold you accountable, sharing your journey with someone makes it loads easier, especially when the going gets rough, which is going to happen at least once. Some people even find that sharing their journey on social media inspires them. Find what works for you.
  • Find your “why”. Deep down, why do you want to do this? Do you not feel well? Do you want to feel more confident in your skin? Do you want to fit into that favorite pair of jeans? Determine what is driving you. Write it down. Put it on your mirror and in your kitchen where you can see it every day.
  • Give yourself a break. You are going to have days where you trip up. We are human and we are prone to make mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up or throw in the towel. Instead, dust yourself off and vow to get back to it tomorrow.
  • Don’t make excuses. This may seem a tad harsh, but saying you don’t have enough time to accomplish something is not a valid reason to abandon a goal. We are all busy. You make time for what really matters in your life. So if this goal matters then make time for it, which may mean sacrificing time in some other area. Some of my favorite time savers for healthy eating (if that is your goal) are batch cooking, using my slow cooker, and planning my meals and snacks ahead of time. Speaking of…
  • Plan. If anything can kill a goal it is being unprepared. I see this in my office every afternoon around 3 pm, which is when I head to the kitchen to prep the afternoon snack I’ve brought from home. Usually at this time someone is hungry and is standing in front of the snack machine about to purchase something that isn’t so great from them. Doing that every once in awhile isn’t going to kill you, but regular trips to get snacks like that will do you no favors. Whatever your goal, plan ahead of time and be prepared.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. Comparison is the thief of joy. One of the things I dislike most about social media is that it has created a culture of comparison. We are all on our own unique journey and everyone is different. Just do you. That is all that matters.

I believe that anything can be accomplished if you truly put your mind to it and your heart and soul behind it. It’s not going to be a cakewalk by any means, and there may be days where you feel like an utter failure, but if you keep the end goal in mind and what it will actually feel like when you meet your goal, it makes the journey so worth it.

One of the things I love to do most in this world is to help people work towards their goals, specifically those that are nutrition and fitness related. We all have different hopes and dreams. Being able to accomplish something that puts you closer to those dreams is one of the most amazing feelings. For me, if I can get someone to drink one less soda, eat two more servings of vegetables, or get up and walk for 30 minutes every day I consider it a victory. And every little victory counts when it comes to our long-term health.

So what change do you feel pulled to make? What has been on your mind to do as the seasons change? Whatever it is, I encourage you to get out there and give it a shot. You never know what you may be missing until you give it a try.

What is Functional Medicine?

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Answer me this: If you had a rock in your shoe would you take off your shoe to get rid of said rock or would you just take some Advil to help with the pain?

Chances are you would do the former and not the latter (I hope). Determining what has caused a problem and removing the source of that problem is a pretty basic thing that most of us learned from a pretty young age. It’s so basic that you don’t really even think about it, you just do it.

But when you think of this analogy in terms of our healthcare industry, you see that this basic premise does not apply. I like to call our healthcare system a “disease-care” system because that’s what it is. We excel when it comes to trauma care, but when it comes to long-term health and wellness, we stink. In general, Americans aren’t taking off their shoe to remove the rock and find the true source of illness and disease. Most of us just go to the doctor and get a medication to deal with the problem. A short-term fix, if you will, to get rid of the symptom. Then 20 years down the road we end up on 10 different medications and wonder how we got to where we are.

Do these fixes really address the problem? In some cases sure, but in most absolutely not, which is where I think our medical system is failing. It would be so easy to point fingers to certain groups who may have contributed to this. To the doctors who just write a prescription and don’t take the time to speak with their patients, learn about their diet and lifestyle, and try other, more holistic means to determine the source of the issue. To the lawmakers who incessantly fight over what healthcare system is best and blame each other for the mess we are in. To the insurance companies who charge premiums that are astronomical and make insurance so confusing mere mortals can’t understand it. To the pharmaceutical industry who actually benefit the most from how this all is playing out and market the sh*t out of their products to us. (On a side note, did you know we are one of only two countries in the entire world that allows drugs to be marketed directly to consumers? New Zealand is the other.)

It would be so easy. But pointless. And just plain negative and cynical, which isn’t how I roll.

I truly wish I had a solution for this problem and sincerely hope that someday we will, but I do have another option to try. It’s time to take matters into our own hands and pursue a path to health that works for each of us individually. A great place to start is with a functional medicine doctor.

So what exactly is functional medicine? It is a patient-focused form of medicine that looks at the body as a whole, not as different systems that should be treated separately. It treats the person, not an individual symptom, to address the underlying causes of disease. The patient and practitioner work together to understand how environmental and lifestyle factors influence health, with the ultimate goal being proactive, predictive, and personalized medicine (as opposed to the current state of reactive medicine where we only go to the doctor after the problem has already occurred).

I have known about the field of functional medicine for a few years now, but only started actually going to a functional medicine doctor last December. How my health has changed since then is pretty dramatic (to me at least). I’ve finally discovered the key to what may be the underlying causes for my hormonal imbalance, underactive thyroid, and digestive ailments – an imbalance in my gut. Not only am I intolerant to gluten, but I also was diagnosed with SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), and an intestinal parasite called giardia. Yikes! I have eliminated gluten from my diet, took medication to address the latter two issues, and how I feel now is like night and day. In the process I feel like I’ve lost about five pounds of bloating around my middle that has been nagging me for years.

I still have work to do with my doctor but I am extremely happy with how it’s gone so far. It’s a marathon, not a sprint and it took 32 years for my gut to become imbalanced (though I sincerely hope it doesn’t take a full 32 more to get it right again!).

Hippocrates did say that “all disease begins in the gut” and the more I learn about it, the more I believe this to be true. Over 70% of our immune system is housed in our gut and the majority of our serotonin (happy chemical) is produced in the gut. The vagus nerve links the gut and the brain, proving that what happens in one will influence what happens in the other. I’ve recently started reading The Microbiome Solution by Dr. Robynne Chutkan, creator of the Live Dirty, Eat Clean diet. I promise to give you a rundown of what I learn from this book when I’m done. In the meantime, check out a past post I’ve written on gut health.

For those of you who want to dig deeper and learn more about functional medicine and the current state of our “disease-care” system, I strongly recommend this podcast. It’s a bit lengthy but totally worth it. I wish I could take credit for the brilliant rock analogy above but I heard it here first. If you are interested in functional medicine and finding a doctor near you, this website is a great place to start. Click on “Find a Practitioner” in the top right menu.

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Photo courtesy of Michael Stern on flickr

Turmeric, Lentil, and Vegetable Stew

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I like to experiment with recipes, change ingredients around and swap stuff in or out to make it healthier. This past Sunday I modified a stew recipe that I found on Mind Body Green and it turned out amazing. So good, in fact, that I have to share.

This Turmeric, Lentil, and Vegetable stew takes about 45 minutes to cook and is a nutritional powerhouse. Here’s just a few reasons why…

Turmeric, one of the main spices in this stew, has been shown to be effective against arthritis, coughs, cancer, and chronic diseases stemming from inflammation. It helps to block a protein that promotes tumor growth and causes inflammation. Research suggests that it may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Adding black pepper to a recipe with turmeric can increase the absorption of turmeric’s active ingredient, curcumin, twentyfold (hence the black pepper in the recipe below).

Garlic can help you fight bacterial and viral infections by boosting production of infection-fighting white blood cells. It has also been shown to reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Lentils are a great source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Compared to other forms of protein, they are low in calories and contain virtually no fat. Of all legumes and nuts, lentils have the third highest amount of protein.

Turmeric, Lentil, and Vegetable Stew

Servings:  approx. 2-3

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium cooking onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 sweet potato, cut into ½ inch cubes
  • 1 zucchini, cut into ½ inch cubes
  • ½ cup lentils, rinsed (can be red or green)
  • 2 cups low sodium (or homemade) chicken broth (go here for my super simple recipe for homemade chicken broth)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional toppings:  fresh parsley or cilantro, avocado

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil in a pan at medium heat.  Add onions and garlic and cook until translucent (approx. 5 minutes).
  2. Add garlic, onion, sweet potato, zucchini, lentils, and broth to a pot.  Add spices and stir to combine.  Bring to a boil and then simmer with the lid on for 30-45 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are soft.
  3. Serve with additional toppings, if desired.

Enjoy!

Natural Ways to Heal from a Winter Cold

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My homemade bone broth – recipe below!

It starts with a sniffle and a cough, then another cough. Soon enough everyone around you is coughing. And then you start to feel it too… This was me last week at work and may have been  you recently too. I felt great one day, a little tired the next, then BAM, it hit me. The dreaded winter cold.

It’s about that time of year that the cold and flu start to spread. People coming home after spending time traveling and visiting family over the holidays. For many, the holidays mean spending time in close quarters with a lot of people. Possibly in warm houses with the heat on too high (like, ahem, my grandmother’s house…). Cold weather keeping everyone indoors with the windows and doors shut tight. Yeah, it was bound to happen sooner or later.

I usually come down with one bad cold a year and last week was my time. I spent much of last weekend curled on my couch with my warm scarf wrapped around my neck, box of tissues and warm dog on either side. Me being the holistic-minded person that I am, I got through it the natural way with no medications or drugs commonly found in the cold aisle of your local pharmacy. How did I do it? With my small arsenal of natural healing remedies, which I will share with you today.

I do want to start with the caveat that everyone’s way of healing is different. If you feel like you need to go to the doctor then go to the doctor (especially if you have a fever over 102). I am by no means a medical professional; this is what worked for me and may help you as well.

Herbs

When you’re sick it’s important to drink a lot of fluids to flush out the toxins and help to thin the mucus that has built up. Hot herbal tea is the first thing that I turn to when feeling off and, in my opinion, is one of the best things to soothe a sore throat. Echinacea is an herb that stimulates immune activity and fortifies cells against invading microorganisms. Elderberry can be used for respiratory infections. Ginger is anti-inflammatory, helping with aches and pains as well as breaking up congestion. Peppermint helps to ease congestion and chamomile can help you sleep. Green tea has been shown to prevent sinus infections. Garlic is immune boosting and antimicrobial, so it can fight viral and bacterial infections. My main go-to is an echinacea tea by Traditional Medicinals, my favorite tea brand.

Essential Oils

This category is a natural extension of herbs, as some of my favorite oils are actually from herb plants. Eucalyptus, oregano, peppermint, and frankincense are my go-to’s. This past week I would ease congestion with a eucalyptus steam every morning with my shower. After letting the water heat up, I would put drops of eucalyptus oil around the edge of my tub and inhale the oil as it got picked up from the steam of my shower. Oregano is antibacterial, anti fungal, and an immune stimulant. Putting a few drops of peppermint in a bowl of hot water and then inhaling will clear you right up (be careful, this one can be intense at first…). Frankincense, the mother of all oils, is anti-inflammatory and stimulating to the immune system. All week my oil diffuser has been spreading peppermint, lemon, and frankincense into the air of my apartment. I have also been gargling daily with salt water mixed with a drop each of oregano, peppermint, and frankincense.

Bone Broth

Your grandmother wasn’t kidding when she told you chicken soup is healing. Bone broth, the base of chicken soup, is one of the simplest soup recipes to make and probably one of the best for you. Broth is extremely healing to the gut, which goes hand-in-hand with your immune system (as I mentioned in a previous post on gut health, about 80% of our immune system is housed in our gut). It has amino acids that have anti-inflammatory effects on the body and minerals in a form that your body can easily absorb.

Now, you can easily purchase bone broth at the store, but the homemade version is very simple and quite cost effective. A big pot of it can go a long way. Last weekend I made a chicken stock which I used to make chicken noodle soup. I used half of the stock for my soup, which lasted me about 4-5 meals. The other half is currently in my freezer to be used in my next soup recipe.

Here is a super simple chicken stock recipe that will help you use up scraps from your kitchen. If making this at home please make sure your chicken is organic.

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 organic chicken carcasses. I freeze mine in a gallon ziplock bag after cooking them and removing the meat.
  • 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (it helps draw the minerals out from the bone)
  • 2-3 cups vegetable scraps. I keep a gallon ziplock bag in my freezer where I store vegetable scraps from my cooking. It contains all sorts of stuff including onion peels, ends of Brussels sprouts and asparagus, kale stems, and the ends of carrots and zucchini.
  • Fresh or dried herbs (I love oregano and thyme for this)

Place in a large pot and cover with cold water. Make sure there is at least an inch of space between the liquid and the top of the pot to avoid a possible mess if you boil over. Bring pot to a boil and then simmer, covered for about 8 hours. Then drain liquid into a bowl and let sit in the fridge overnight. The next morning skim off the top layer of fat and then you have your broth! Warm it in a mug to drink straight or use it to make a killer chicken soup. I also mix some into my dog’s hard food and he goes nuts. My chicken soup was based on this recipe.

Rest

Last but not least, rest. Give you body the time it needs to heal and fight the germs that have invaded your body. Last Friday I slept for 14 hours straight and when I woke up I felt much better (still horrible, but better!). If you’re sick you probably won’t want to do much anyways. Time for some Netflix marathon watching!

I hope that the dreaded winter cold doesn’t reach you this year but if it does, I hope these tools will help you along the way.

Sources:  Bone Broth – One of Your Most Healing Diet Staples

Reflections on 2016

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Hello dear friends,

It’s been a little while since I’ve written. So long that I don’t even remember the last time that I was here speaking with you all. To be completely honest, I didn’t know whether I would ever come back. But this blog is a big part of how I work to be my authentic self in the world, so I thought it was important to start writing again, even if my writing isn’t as often or is harder for me to do.

I have taken some time away to hibernate and heal after an enormous upheaval in my personal life that happened at the end of the summer. Now I understand why so many animals hibernate through the winter, resting and healing and conserving their energy through the harsh weather. I have weathered a roller coaster of emotions and tough changes by doing just that (or my version at least). And though I didn’t believe it at the time, I now feel like I am going to be okay.

Just like a bear after a long winter’s nap, I am emerging happier, healthier, and more refreshed. I am ready to slowly come back out into the open. To write again to you all about how I’m feeling and how I work every day to live as natural and authentic a life as I possibly can.

For a while now I felt like I’d gone a little off course. Like a ship that’s pointed slightly in the wrong direction because the compass isn’t calibrated correctly. I have worked to center myself again and get back to the “me” that I want to be in this world by starting with the basics. For me this is quality time alone, sleeping like it’s nobody’s business, yoga, meditation and building a solid spiritual practice, cooking and trying new recipes, journaling and reflecting, and reconnecting with those that mean the most to me in my life with renewed intention.

My passion for health and fitness has been dulled a little by the pain. It is hard for me to come back and write here and I can feel that I still have emotions and feelings to work through. As it has before, I know my writing will help me with that. As always, I will strive to be authentic and real. We’ve all got our own journeys and I’m here to share mine in hopes that it may help you in some way with yours.

I did a reflection exercise recently from my friend D over at Be You and Thrive. It was a great way for me to look back on my year. To think about the highs and lows, what I have learned, what I would do differently, and what I am proud of. Through reflection we can learn what works for us and what doesn’t. What choices we can make going forward to live the lives that we want to live. It also helps us appreciate what we have and live with greater intention. If this is something you think you would like to do, I encourage you to head on over to Be You and Thrive and check it out.

One of the questions in this reflection is what advice I would give to others from what I have learned this past year. I came up with 10 that I wanted to share with you here:

  • Listen to your body, it always know what’s best for you
  • Don’t stay in a relationship just because you are afraid of being alone
  • A good night’s sleep makes all the difference (don’t compromise on your sleep)
  • Taking breaks from technology is really freeing
  • Your worth isn’t determined by how many likes you get on social media
  • Feed your body real food (this isn’t really a new one for me but is so important I had to include)
  • Stand up for what you believe in and don’t be scared to speak your truth
  • Hold you head up high, smile, and look people in the eye
  • Batch cooking on Sundays is the answer to eating healthy during the week
  • Always choose love, no matter what (especially while in traffic)

I wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and safe holiday. See you soon in the new year.

 

Photo credit:  Image courtesy of Davide D’Amico on flickr

The Societal Glorification of Being Busy

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Are you the type of person who never feels like you have enough time? Do you feel like you have to rush just to fit it all in? Do you get overwhelmed sometimes just thinking of everything you need to do?

We live in a society that glorifies being busy. Always having something on your plate is seen as a good thing. When someone asks you the question, “How are you doing?”, is you typical go-to answer “Oh, I’ve been so busy!”? I’ll raise my hand and say that this has been my answer many, many times.

Has anyone ever praised you for taking a break and sitting a few rounds out every once in a while? I didn’t think so, which is not okay.

I’m trying to change my habit of automatically responding to questions such as the one I just mentioned and automatically saying that I am busy. I don’t think it’s a respectable answer. If someone asks how I’m doing, I believe I should tell them how I’m doing and what has been going on in my life. Plus, I think that always being busy, whether physically (as in running around everywhere) or mentally (as in a running to-do list in your head), causes stress. Stress that is completely unnecessary and not healthy.

Of course our bodies are equipped to handle stress. Our sympathetic nervous system kicks into gear and our “fight or flight” hormones such as cortisol are released. In an ideal world, the stress is short-lived and after the threat has been diminished, our parasympathetic nervous system takes over, which helps our body “rest and digest” and get back to a balanced, calm state.

But if we are constantly busy and not willing to take the time to give ourselves a break, our body never gets to rest. It is in a constant state of red alert. Over time this can lead to digestive issues (ever noticed that your digestion is a bit wonky during stressful times?), adrenal fatigue, trouble sleeping, and a whole host of other issues. Prolonged chronic stress is like the first domino that can knock a whole bunch of other dominoes down and cause a chain reaction in the body. Not to mention that you will also probably be irritable and not a fun person to be around.

So how can we change all of the busy in our lives? It starts with examining our relationship with time.

Recently I have been doing just that and am focusing on how my thoughts around time impact my life. My main thoughts around time are past-based or future-based. Past-based thoughts are typically regrets about something that I chose to do or did not do. Future-based thoughts are dreams of various paths my life could take and what I should/should not being doing right now to put me on the path that I’d most like to go.

Focusing on past-based and future-based thoughts causes me a lot of stress. I tend to get upset about things from my past and overwhelmed about all of the things that I feel that I need to do to achieve my future vision. But these types of thoughts keep me from truly being present in my life today. And today is what matters. We can only change what we are doing right now.

When past-based thoughts rear their ugly head, I try to remember that the past has happened. It is done and cannot be changed. We can only learn from our experiences and let them guide us on the journey that is life. Our past has shaped us into the people we are today. It is a necessary step to get where we are meant to go in life.

And the future? Well, it’s just the future love and there is nothing you can do about that. Worrying about the future is a waste of time and will only take us away from the present. Believe me, if somebody could predict the future we would have found that out by now.

So now I am working to focus on living my life today and enjoying every moment of it. Making time for work and fun and everything in between. Stepping away from the “busy” paradigm and doing what fulfills me and makes me happy. I believe that if I do that, then the future will unfold just as it’s meant to be.

What is your relationship with time?

Photo credit: Image courtesy of kylesteed on flickr