When working with clients, one of the biggest hurdles for them when it comes to transitioning to real, whole, nutrient dense foods is figuring out the whole “breakfast thing”. Most of the foods that we’ve been programmed to consider breakfast foods, things like cereal, toast, pancakes and even fruit are lacking in two vital nutrients. Fats and Protein. Our (often heavily refined) carbohydrate heavy breakfasts are setting us up for a wild ride on the blood sugar rollercoaster. Needing to snack every few hours, getting jittery, irritable and hangry and feeling the need for a mid-afternoon siesta are all pretty good signs that you need better balance in your life. Each meal we eat should have a balance of the three macronutrients, carbohydrates (grains, vegetables, fruits), protein and healthy fats. The proper ratio of these nutrients will vary from person to person, depending on several factors including age, activity level and digestive health. Keeping a food and mood journal, tuning into how you are feeling and working with a nutritional therapist can help you identify any tweaks you can make in your ratios to best fuel your body and provide long lasting energy.
Have you ever considered having a big Cobb salad to start your day? How about some left over pot roast and sweet potatoes? Sound crazy? Creating a balanced breakfast is more of a mental game than anything else. It’s really just another meal! Your cells don’t care if it is 7am or 7pm, they just want food that is nourishing, provides them with the nutrients they need to do their jobs and gives them the energy to keep going until the next balanced meal. This mental shift can take some work, but luckily, there is a food that is kind of a “jack of all trades”at fitting in to any meal. The almighty egg! Using eggs as a base for a tasty breakfast dish can help you transition from those carbohydrate heavy breakfasts to a well balanced, energizing way to break your fast.
Enter the Egg Bake (or Crustless Quiche if you are feeling fancy)! This recipe has it all. It’s super easy to prepare, can be made ahead and supplies you with breakfasts throughout the week and is SUPER adaptable to whatever ingredients you have on hand. It is the perfect “fridge foraging” recipe. You know when you have a lot of bits and pieces of stuff to use up – make an egg bake!
I’ll be honest. I’m a bit of a free-styler in the kitchen. I tend to go by feel, throwing a bit of this or that in and adjusting as I go. When my husband compliments me on a meal, I often joke that I’m glad he enjoyed it, because it’s unlikely to ever taste the same way twice! I come by it naturally, as my mom is much the same way. I have fond memories of her handing a tasting spoon to Dad and asking him if the sauce or chili needed anything else. More often than not, after some pensive consideration (and maybe another taste or two), he would pronounce it as being perfect. This, for those of you wondering, is the absolute CORRECT response when your significant other asks for your opinion on their cooking!
This way of cooking does create some issues when you want to share a recipe though. A pinch of this or a glug of that doesn’t really make for effective recipe blogging. So, when I set out to make this egg bake, I made sure to jot down measurements. That being said, this recipe is so versatile, you can feel free to change it up as you see fit! I kept the ingredients in this one pretty basic, mostly because we are in the midst of the whole “shelter in place” thingy and this is what I had to work with! Leftovers work really well here. Got some leftover taco meat? Make a southwestern version with some added peppers, cilantro and top with avocado before serving. Leftover bacon (is that even a thing?) combined with green pepper and onion – voila a Western omelet egg bake. Play around, improvise – food should be fun!
For this egg bake, I whisked 18 pasture raised eggs (I wanted roughly 3 eggs per serving) with coconut milk and salt and pepper. The milk can be omitted, but I find that it helps to lighten up the egg bake and make it a little fluffier.
Next, I diced up some leftover ham, evenly distributed it into a greased 9X13 baking dish and poured the egg mixture over top.
Lastly, I placed the sliced tomatoes in a single layer on top of the ham and eggs, sprinkled with the basil, a little extra salt and pepper and the nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast is a great source of Vitamin B12 and it adds a mild hint of cheesiness to dishes. Since I love dairy, but am sensitive to it, I use nutritional yeast to make me feel like there COULD be some form of cheesy goodness in there!
Finally, I popped it in a 350 F degree oven and let it bake for 45 minutes. And just like that, I have breakfasts (or lunches) for the week. This version is a little light on the veg (thanks, shelter in place), but pair it with a salad of mixed greens or some berries and you have a balanced meal that tastes great and supplies you with plenty of stable energy to keep you going until your next meal.
Easy Egg Bake
A super versatile recipe that is great for any meal of the day.
Ok folks, let’s address the elephant in all the rooms right now. Corona Virus. Seemingly overnight it has escalated from a distant threat to one of real concern on the homefront. For those of you who don’t know, I’m living in the EPICENTER of the outbreak here in the US. By and large, there is a sense of calm concern and a quiet worry about the unknown. With many people working from home (and now the school closures) traffic is light, but there are still people out and going about their business. The media is doing its part to keep us all informed. Some say they are stoking the “panic” fires and creating undo stress and there is some merit to that. The truth is – we REALLY don’t know for sure…this is kinda unchartered territory for most of us. What we DO know is that the elderly and people with co-morbid conditions are the most at risk. Those of us who are young(ish), healthy individuals should be more concerned with keeping our immune systems healthy so that we can fight off the virus and prevent inadvertently passing it on to those more compromised individuals. I personally think that is the biggest concern, that the virus can be passed on BEFORE you are symptomatic.
So here is the deal. You DO NOT need a year’s worth of toilet paper and bottled water. Firstly, this is a respiratory illness. Secondly, you can ALWAYS find other, creative ways to wipe your behind if things get dire. This is not a natural disaster..water will still flow from your pipes. I get it. People are concerned and feel like they need to do SOMETHING to prepare. That’s understandable, but TP isn’t the answer. So what should we be doing?
First off, it’s important to be aware that stress can weaken your immune system. While there is room for some concern and measures of preparedness, constantly worrying about “what if” is not doing your health any favours. Some tips to help keep stress under control:
Take a break from the news and social media. Give your mind a break from the onslaught of virus updates.
Use breathing exercises like these to help you switch from fight or flight mode and into a more relaxed state.
If you choose to self-distance yourself, use your “me time” to pursue hobbies you enjoy. Read, craft or, even better, prepare some healthy meals!
Move your body. Movement not only helps relieve stress by burning of excess stress hormone (cortisol), it also moves lymph throughout the lymphatic system, The lymphatic system filters out pathogens in the lymph nodes and is where the cells of our immune system mingle with the different pathogens that enter our bodies.
Get lots of sleep! The number and activity of every immune cell are higher during the night, making sleep essential for long term health (Commitee on Military Nutrition Research, 1999). Aim for at least 7 to 9 hours nightly.
Secondly, leave the toilet paper on the shelf (unless you REALLY are running low!) and stock up on healthy, nutrient dense foods – which, conveniently, go a long way to supporting immune health!
Avoid sugar (this is stressful to the body and depletes, rather that enhances immune function)
Avoid pre-packaged, processed foods. More often than not, these are highly processed and refined, devoid of nutrients and full of preservatives. Not what your immune system needs to thrive!
Stock up on lots of bright and colorful fruits and veggies. These foods are packed with immune supporting nutrients like Vitamin C, B Vitamins, beta-carotene (the precursor of Vitamin A) and antioxidants.
If you are worried about being house bound for any length of time, stock up on HEALTHY non-perishables. Frozen fruit and vegetables are a great option when fresh isn’t possible. Prepare some meals ahead of time with your perishable ingredients and freeze them, so you have something nourishing on hand. Make a big batch of bone broth. It’s great for the immune system and easy to make into a hearty soup with some added cooked protein and frozen veggies.
Other things to consider include supporting your microbiome with sufficient fiber from a variety of vegetables and fruit, eating well balanced meals containing whole food, healthy fats, carbohydrates (in the form of vegetables) and protein and avoiding those inflammatory foods (sugar, processed and refined foods, additives and preservatives). Get outside in the sun if you can. Through sun exposure, our bodies make Vitamin D, which is another important nutrient for immune health. Oh, and remember to HYDRATE! Aim for half your body weight in ounces of clean, filtered water daily. Help your body absorb and utilize this water by adding a pinch of good quality seasalt (like Himalayan seasalt) to your water bottle.
Caution, not chaos, is the way to go. Go ahead and stock up your fridge, pantry and freezer with nutrient dense foods and use social distancing if being out in public is stressful to you. Not to sound like a broken record and state the obvious, but YES, please wash your hands thoroughly and often and avoid touching your face as much as possible. If you are symptomatic (fever, dry cough, shortness of breath), STAY HOME. Rest, eat those immune supporting foods and rest some more.
I saw a great quote earlier today from @blessthemessy:
“Remember fear and anxiety can be contagious, but so can kindness, love and hope. Take care of yourself and each other.”
Be kind to yourself, support your immune system, listen to your body and show grace to those around you who are struggling to know what to do in these uncertain times, even if they are hoarding the toilet paper. 😉
If you follow me on instagram (@peaknutritionandwellness) or facebook (https://www.facebook.com/peaknutritionandwellness), you’ll know that I did a 20 day tip blitz focusing on tips to help reduce your “toxic burden”. In hindsight, 20 days may have been a little long, but it fit in well with the New Year – 2020 vibe I was going for and there was so much handy and important information that I wanted to share! So important that I’ve decided to combine them all into one, rather long, blog post. Most of the tips are easily incorporated into our daily routines, some will take some practice and maybe a little extra effort. Start with one or two and work your way up. Any change that supports your bodies ability to deal with the burdens it encounters daily is a step in the right direction! For those who DID follow the 20 day tip-fest on my social media, THANK YOU and please leave a comment telling me what tips you’ve incorporated into your daily routine! I hope to have some fresh material up on this blog for you soon!
Our bodies have their own built-in, super efficient detox systems that work continuously and naturally. We can support this process by fuelling our bodies with the nutrients it requires for detoxification and doing what we can to decrease our own toxic load. This system was not built for the onslaught of modern day toxins we come into contact with on a daily basis. From the processed and packaged foods we eat, the pollution in the air we breathe, the chemicals in our household products to the stress of navigating ALL the details of everyday life – these are all seen as toxins to the body and contribute to your own personal toxic load.
Buckle up, because here come the tips!!
Water, the most essential of all nutrients, is also the nutrient that we are most deficient in. Good old H Two O is critical for every cell in the body to function. Among its many roles, proper hydration helps control our body temperature, lubricates joints and delivers nutrients to the cells of the body. It is also an important ingredient for detox, as it flushes toxins and removes wastes.
Early signs of dehydration can include fatigue, headaches, cravings, anxiety and irritability.
Aim for about half your body weight (lbs) in ounces of clean, filtered water daily, adding extra for any dehydrating bevvies (coffee, tea, soda, alcohol, fruit juices) you consume. Bonus tip: a pinch of good quality sea salt in your water bottle helps you absorb and utilize the water effectively! Drink up!
The long, cold months of winter are prime time for hibernating inside our warm and cozy homes. If we look at all the benefits of getting some time outdoors though, we should all be jumping off our couches and heading outside!
Some of the benefits of the great outdoors include:
Improved Sleep (super important, as this is when your body does a lot of its detoxing, repairing and healing!)
Vitamin D production – Beyond its role in supporting bone health, research suggests that Vitamin D can boost immune function, decrease your chance of developing heart disease and may play an important role in regulating mood.
Stress reduction – In a 2011 study by Miyazaki y et al., researchers found that those participants who spent time in a forest setting had decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol and reduced heart rates versus those participants stuck in an urban setting. Stress contributes to the body’s toxic load and, since detoxification processes only occur in a relaxed state, spending time outdoors not only reduces the burden on the body, but aids the body in dealing with toxins in general!
People are more apt to move when they are outside – Exercise or any type of movement helps remove toxins by releasing them through our sweat, our increased respiratory rate and by the contraction of the muscles moving lymph through our lymphatic system which filters out bacteria, viruses and organic material.
Makeup, Cleansers, Shampoos and Conditioners, Lotions, Deodorants, Sunscreens…we slather a lot of stuff on our bodies everyday. When you consider that the skin is the largest organ of the body, there is ALOT of surface area through which we can absorb any toxins or chemicals lurking in our personal care products!
According to the Environmental Working Group’s website (www.ewg.org),
“…it has been more than 80 years since Congress last updated the federal law designed to ensure that personal care products are safe. The Food and Drug Administration does not even require the basic safety testing of ingredients in personal care products before they are used.”
When you stop to think about how many chemicals have been synthesized and made available to manufacturers over the last 80 years, this is beyond concerning! Thankfully, many countries have banned or restricted the use many chemicals in personal care products – the US is woefully behind the times.
Some of the more common ingredients of concern include:
Aluminum – Long thought to be connected to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, studies into the matter have yet to support this link. Studies HAVE demonstrated that aluminum does cause neurotoxicity in humans (in dialysis patients treated with aluminum containing dialysis fluids and in high exposure in the workplace).
Aluminum works to block the pores and prevent sweating. As sweating is an important detox pathway, one could argue that by using aluminum containing antiperspirants, you are somewhat inhibiting your body’s ability to detox. My thoughts are that there are SO many great, aluminum free alternatives available these days, why NOT make the switch?
Parabens – These are a class of preservatives that are included in products to help prevent mold and bacterial growth. They are classified as endocrine disrupters, as they can alter our body’s hormone mechanisms.
Pthalates – Pthalates are used to make products more flexible and to allow them to stick to the skin (think nail polish, fragrances, hair products). These compounds have also been found to be endocrine disruptors.
Synthetic Fragrances – Found everywhere, these scents can include any number of over 3000 chemical ingredients, many of which are allergens and endocrine disruptors. You won’t find a list of the chemicals on the bottle, as they are considered a “trade secret” and the manufacturers only need to list “fragrance” on the label.
The good news is that there are more and more companies producing cleaner and safer products. Some of my faves include BeautyCounter, Native, Monat and Primally Pure. The Environmental Working Group also has an app called “Healthy Living” that allows you to scan a product’s bar code and see its safety rating.
If revamping your whole cosmetic bag seems overwhelming, try swapping out one product at a time. As you run out, replace it with something cleaner!
Our bodies were designed to recognize whole, one ingredient foods. Foods synthesized by man or highly processed and stripped of their nutrients are a burden on the body. It takes energy and nutrients to metabolize and clear out these “foreign”, pseudo foods. Add to that the fact that these products are pretty much void of any usable nutrients and you can start to see how detrimental they can be to our health. Refined, white sugar, for example, needs magnesium and B vitamins to be metabolized by the body. It is not supplying us with these nutrients, so they need to be stolen from elsewhere in the body to deal with that daily soda habit. Real, one ingredient, whole and unprocessed foods come packed with nutrients that provide what the body needs to utilize these foods and then some! Limiting packaged foods, sugary snacks and drinks and sticking to whole foods (or at least foods with ingredients that you can pronounce) will help lessen the toxic load on your body and allow it to use its resources to function more optimally!
Although we will never be able to avoid all the stresses of everyday life, we can adopt habits that help us calm our nervous system and support digestion and detoxification.
Deep breathing, or belly breathing, helps us switch our nervous system over from the sympathetic “fight or flight” response to the parasympathetic “rest and digest” response.
We are a society of shallow breathers. Breathing only into our chests and not deeply into the lowest parts of our lungs increases tension and anxiety. Take a moment to monitor your own breathing, or watch those around you. Are you inhaling fully into the bottom of your lungs? Does your belly expand when you inhale? If not, you are a shallow breather. Most of us are, which is why we need to intentionally focus on our breathing and practice deep breathing relaxation techniques!
Two simple breathing techniques to help calm the nervous system are:
Slow Deep Breath – Inhale slowly and fully, allowing your belly to expand with the breath, then slowly exhale fully.
4-7-8 Breathing Technique. – Exhale completely, then inhale through your nose to a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7 and then exhale completely through your mouth for a count of 8.
Repeat the breathing exercises as your time and focus allows. Try to practice each day to establish a habit. Once you get comfortable with the technique, you can try incorporating it into a more focused practice by using words, phrases or imagery, along with the breath work, to help you relax.
There are many other breath techniques out there! Give several a try. That way you can see which works best for you and you’ll have a variety to select from if you want to switch things up or if your regular exercise isn’t working to relax you.
We live in an increasingly disconnected society, spending more time with our devices than with other people! We may not realize the negative effects this can have on our health. The health benefits of connecting with others are numerous and studies have shown that people who have support from friends, family and community live longer, happier and healthier lives.
Connecting with others helps to relieve stress – whether it is having a safe place to vent your worries and frustrations, having people that care about your well-being or simply engaging together in a good old dose of laughter – being cared for and caring for others lowers our stress burden.
And those furry friends? Studies have shown that owning a pet increases happiness, lowers stress and even improves blood pressure and cholesterol. It’s no wonder we see them used in healthcare settings to improve patient well-being!
So get out there and connect – really connect, face to face, with your people, whether they are of the two OR four legged variety. Your health with thank you for it!
In order to be healthy, we must move. Notice I said MOVE and not exercise. Exercise is a great form of movement, but there are numerous other ways in which we can, and should, move our bodies on a daily basis. From basic daily activities (cleaning etc) to stretching to walking to dancing, all are wonderful ways to retain the optimal function of our bodies.
Movement helps us to release and burn off excess stress hormone (cortisol), therefore reducing our stress burden. Muscle contractions from movement help to move fluid through the lymphatic system and filter out toxins, such as bacteria and viruses. So by moving everyday, you are helping to decrease the toxins (stress or physical toxin) that your body needs to deal with. So get out there and MOVE!
Got a sweet tooth? You aren’t alone. We are genetically hard wired to seek out sweet treats. Sweet, sugary foods were rare finds for our ancestors and our genes still guide us to eat all we can in order to store the excess energy for times of famine. Times, however, have changed! Sugar is now available everywhere and often lurks in products (often disguised by another name) that we would never think would have sugar as an ingredient. What’s more, the sugar we encounter today is most often highly processed and refined. It is a far cry from the nutrient dense honey and fruit our ancestors would have eaten. Stripped of all its vitamins and minerals, the body must spend its own valuable nutrients to metabolize and clear it from your system.
Our body’s do have a system to regulate our blood sugar and, when we eat a nutrient dense diet with a healthy balance of protein, fats and carbohydrates, it works wonderfully. The pancreas releases insulin to store the glucose and when our blood sugar begins to drop it secretes another hormone, glucagon, to release that stored glucose to use as energy until we eat again.
When we eat a diet high in sugar (lots of simple carbohydrates and refined foods), our blood sugar spikes and the pancreas must release ALOT of insulin. All this insulin then causes the blood sugar to crash. The body interprets both too high and too low blood sugar as emergencies. And emergencies are, you guessed it, stressful to the body! In fact, it is our stress hormone, cortisol, that the body will call on in low blood sugar situations to return blood sugar to normal.
So eat a diet full of healthy vegetables, protein, fats and a little fruit. Limit your sugar intake – we are all plenty sweet enough!
I bet if I asked a group of adults what they most missed about being a kid most of them would answer “the freedom”. The freedom to just do anything, the freedom to be silly or let your imagination run wild…the freedom to play. Adulting is hard work. We get so caught up in being productive, meeting our deadlines and managing our responsibilities that we don’t remember to play or, if we do consider it, we dismiss it as a waste of time. Play can be an important aspect of our health. It allows us, however briefly, to disconnect from the stresses of daily life. Through play we can foster creativeness and imagination, both of which are great for the brain. A lot of play incorporates movement which, as we already learned, releases stress and toxins from our system. We can engage socially through play, creating those connections so many of us are missing. Play doesn’t have to be productive or have a goal; it simply has to be JOYFUL! Whether it’s painting, playing tag, dancing to the radio, playing fetch with your dog or engaging in a no holds barred snowball fight, if it brings you joy – DO IT!
Sleep is a vital ingredient for maintaining good health. Meant to spend roughly 1/3 of our lives sleeping, most people are falling short of this 8 hour recommendation. Sleep is when the body builds, repairs and restores. It is when the brain sorts all of the data accumulated throughout the day, making it important for memory and learning. Sleep is also when detoxification occurs in the brain and other parts of the body.
Make this the year you work on mastering your sleep. Some tips to consider:
Aim for 8 hours of sleep a night
Maintain a consistent bed and wake time
Keep bedroom cool, quiet and as dark as possible (wear a sleep mask if needed)
Disconnect from electronics 1 to 2 hours prior to bedtime – if you must use them avoid blue light by adjusting settings or wearing blue light blocking eyewear
Use relaxation and breathing exercises to manage stress
Avoid stimulants like caffeine late in the day
Alcohol negatively affects sleep quality – use moderation if consuming
Daily movement can improve sleep – often earlier in the day is better. Late day exercise may delay sleep in some people. Exercising in nature does even more to improve sleep!
Dim indoor lights in the evening to mimic the natural light outside
The average household contains more than 60 harmful chemicals. Chemicals that we end up breathing in, absorbing through our skin or ingesting contribute to our body’s toxic burden. These toxins also end up in our environment and water supply.
This year, get on board with cleaner living! Start reducing chemicals in your home – even if it is one room, or one product, at a time. Switch those dryer sheets out for wool laundry balls, switch to scent free laundry detergent without fillers, use reusable microfibre cloths and water for all your cleaning, switch from disposable dusting sheets to a reusable dusting mitt!
Thankfully, we are seeing more companies coming on board with safer cleaning options. Branch Basics is one that I have heard good things about and, if you know me, you know that I LOVE my Norwex products! You can check out their products at https://shannonflood.norwex.biz or message me if you’d like more info. Let me know what other companies are helping you create Safer, Cleaner, Toxic Free homes!
Eating a variety of brightly coloured vegetables and fruit does more for you than just make your plate look pretty (although that can be important to get those digestive juices flowing). Selecting a rainbow of produce ensures that you are getting a wide array of vitamins and phytonutrients in your diet.
A plant’s colour is determined by the type of phytonutrients it contains. Phytonutrients are like the plant’s immune system and they can benefit our health too. These colour providing pigments have been shown to have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They also support the immune system and may have cancer preventative properties. They pack a big health punch!
Next time you are filling your grocery basket aim for a mix of colours – red, blue, purple, orange, yellow, green – even the white veggies like onions and garlic have health promoting compounds, so don’t ignore those!
Aside from it being just plain fun to learn a new skill or pick up a new hobby, it can provide health benefits as well.
Doing a task we enjoy without the pressure of deadlines can reduce stress.
Learning causes new connections to form between the neurons in your brain. This increases our brain’s neuroplasticity which not only makes us more effective learners, but can help with recovery from strokes or traumatic brain injuries, enhance memory and even allow the brain to rewire function from a damaged area to a healthy area of the brain.
New skills and hobbies can open up a world of social connections via groups formed around that skill or just giving you something interesting to talk about at parties!
Mental exercise keeps your mind in shape and can help stave off dementia. Crosswords, puzzles, learning to knit – anything that challenges your mind can keep your brain in tip top shape.
The more you learn, the easier learning becomes! You know the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? Well maybe you could if you never stopped teaching him those tricks!
I’ve already touched on this in several places and I KNOW it seems silly for me to say “put your devices down” when I’m posting things that are meant solely to be read on devices! BUT…
From blue light disrupting sleep, to EMF’s and their potential to negatively affect health to losing the benefits of social connection, our devices are definitely contributing to our toxic load. The problem is, they have become almost a necessity in our modern world. Make a plan to be more aware of your usage, devices will even TELL you what your daily usage is! It can be surprising (and a little shocking) to see how all that facebook scrolling, tweet posting and googling can add up.
Put your phones away at meal times – connect with your food and the people you are with. Your relationships will benefit and so will your digestion!
Take a social media break – for a day or a week – it’ll all be there when you come back – I promise. Just think of all the healthy things you can do with the time you free up!
I have a hard time saying no. I bet a lot of you do too. We want to be the easy-going, always reliable and dependable friend or co-worker. We don’t want to disappoint anyone or cause hurt feelings. But saying yes to things when your heart and mind are screaming “Say NO!” can cause you to have feelings of resentment towards yourself and/or the person who made the request. It causes stress and anxiety, as you think about the project or event you too quickly agreed to be apart of.
Fear of missing out (or FOMO for you cool cats) also causes a lot of “yes” that should be “no” answers. You’re exhausted, you feel you are coming down with something and you want nothing more than to go home and have a warm bath and hang out on the couch with your hubby…or cat…or both. But everyone is going out for drinks and they tell you that you just HAVE to come, it’ll be so fun! So, even though you know there will be a next time, you ignore your immediate needs. You say NO to self-care and probably count the minutes until you can leave without looking like a party pooper!
Of course we can’t say no to everything we would rather not do. Somethings just have to be done. But when we constantly say yes to things we don’t even have to do, we become over-committed, over-tired, over-stressed and crowd out the time we have for things we ACTUALLY want to do!
Saying no has benefits! Saying no to others means saying a big fat YES to yourself and your needs and priorities.
When we say no to all the little things that aren’t all that important, we save up all that time and energy so we can say yes to the things that are big and meaningful to us.
So this year, set some boundaries. Practice the art of saying no and say yes to yourself more than you are comfortable with.
There are many benefits to sourcing and eating organic produce, including limiting your exposure to toxins from pesticides and fertilizers. Beyond adding to the toxic load your body must deal with, these compounds can be potential carcinogens and/or endocrine disruptors. Purchasing pasture-raised or grass fed and finished meats ensures that the animals were raised and fed as nature intended and did not consume commercial feeds that may contain antibiotics, hormones or GMO grains.
Whenever possible, source your food as close as possible to where you live! Less time in transit means fresher, more nutrient dense food and less emissions. Farmers markets or CSA boxes are great ways to find local, seasonal, high quality food. It can also be a more affordable way to purchase organic produce. If the cost of quality ingredients seems prohibitive, my advice is to do what you can with what you have. Look at the Environmental Working Groups Dirty Dozen list (https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty-dozen.php) to find out which produce tends to have the most pesticide residue and buy organic for those products. Buying cheaper cuts of meat or organ meats (incredibly nutrient dense) can be a good way of affording better quality meat.
Quality fats are also important! Vegetable oils (such as canola, corn, sunflower etc) are unstable to light and heat. They go rancid quickly and are full of free radicals that cause oxidative damage to our cells and inflammation. Stick with high quality, stable animal and tropical fats for high heat cooking, olive oil and avocado oil for lower heat cooking and use less stable nut and seed oils (like walnut, flax) in cold preparations.
If there is one room in the house that may contribute the most to an unhealthy home environment, it is the laundry room. Getting that “mountain fresh” scent from your laundry detergent and dryer sheets comes at a cost. These products release Volatile Organic Compounds (or VOCs) into the air in your home and into your neighbourhood through the dryer vent. These are hazardous airborne pollutants that can impact our air quality and health. Besides these VOC’s, the chemicals and fragrances in these laundry room basics can trigger asthma attacks, irritate the skin, disrupt the endocrine system and be potentially carcinogenic. Some of the “Big Baddies” to watch out for include:
Sodium lauryl sulfate
Sodium hypochlorite bleach
Going “scent-free” isn’t always enough either. Most are the same chemical concoction as their scented counterparts, with a masking chemical added in to hide the scent.
There are some great companies producing safer laundry products. Branch Basics, Seventh Generation and Molly’s Suds are a few. Norwex also has great, safer laundry products and some GREAT wool laundry balls (https://shannonflood.norwex.biz). Replace your dryer sheets with wool dryer balls! They fluff your clothes, remove static, decrease drying time and are reusable, so they are better for the environment too! Check out EWG.org or the ThinkDirty App to see where your laundry supplies rank and find some safer alternatives.
So you’ve gone out and sourced your high quality, nutrient dense food and now you are ready to get some food on the table! But wait! Before you get your cook on, we need to discuss cookware.
Certain types of cookware can potentially leach toxins into the food you are cooking. The top two include:
Aluminum – Although attractive to the pocket book, aluminum is soft and highly reactive (particularly to acidic foods) and may pose some serious health concerns when ingested. Although there has been no definitive link made between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease, we DO know that aluminum is a neurotoxin and can affect many important functions in the body.
Teflon – The revered, faithful, “Non-Stick” pan may make clean up a breeze, but the polytetrafluoroethylene that gives the pan its “non-stickiness” releases several toxic gases, some carcinogenic, when heated. In fact, manufacturers warn against using these pans if you have birds in the house. Not for nothing, but if it’s not safe for Tweety, maybe we should think twice too! Another chemical in Teflon, perfluorooctanoic acid, also has toxic effects on many systems in the body. With a half life of three years, once ingested, it is going to be with you for a long while. It is not metabolized and cleared easily by the body.
Stainless steel pans are free of chemicals and fairly inert. With proper heating and oiling, they can be virtually non-stick, though they do clean up really nicely if you do get some stuck on messes.
Cast Iron – Probably my favourite! These bad boys are super versatile. They can go from stove top to oven, be used on the grill or open flame – anything goes! Once seasoned properly, they are a great non-stick alternative and cleaning them is a breeze. They can leach minute amounts of iron into the food that is being prepared (again, particularly with acidic foods), but this could be considered a benefit for those low in iron. The more seasoned the pan is, the less it will leach.
Enamel Coated Cast Iron – My favourite for braises and slow simmering tomato sauces! The coating prevents any leaching of iron, which may affect the flavour of some foods that are cooked for a long time. Clean up is super easy and the weight of the cast iron is like a mini-workout!
There are many types of pans on the market, but these are my go-to vessels. Glass is also a great, inert material for baking or roasting in the oven.
A little note on leftovers – plastic containers can also leach chemicals into the food being stored in them, particularly if hot food is put into the container. Consider switching out your plastic lunch and leftover containers for glass or stainless steel!
Now get cooking!
We hear a lot about being “in the moment”, but what does that really mean and why is it important? Being present means to be focused on what is happening to you and around you in this moment. You are not thinking back with regret on what went wrong yesterday and aren’t looking ahead in stressful anticipation of what is coming tomorrow. It’s harder done that said!
We’ve all been to dinner with a friend (or we are THAT friend) who can’t quit checking their phone. You leave the meal feeling ignored and they probably leave feeling frazzled, pulled in too many directions and not really knowing if they enjoyed what they ate! Little or no meaningful connection is made. I see the same thing at concerts all the time! People will actually watch the whole concert through the screen on their phone while they attempt to videotape the concert! In their attempt to make sure they have something to remember the moment by, they are missing out on all the little moments that make it truly memorable. The way the crowd is reacting, the smells in the air, the cute old couple dancing in the aisle…all they have is a small, grainy version of what is literally going on right in front of them! As author Sheralyn Pratt said, “The point is to be in the moment, not miss the moment while trying to capture it.”
Being more present helps reduce stress. By not fretting over yesterday or worrying about tomorrow, we create a stillness and calm. We can only control what is happening right now and when we let go of the stuff we can’t control, we feel more centred and relaxed. I’m definitely still a work in progress when it comes to this! I’m Queen of overthinking and planning for each possible worst case scenario, but I’m improving and catch myself when I start getting deep into “What if…” mode.
Presence can allow us to be more creative. We are working in the moment and not thinking about what other people will think when they see, read or experience our creations. Better social interactions are another benefit of being present. We can connect, share common experiences and create memories with each other.
A good way to start being more present is to start noticing when you AREN’T. Catch yourself worrying about tomorrow’s tasks? Make a note of it and pull your thoughts and attention back to what you are doing NOW. Work towards gradually improving your consistency. Start noticing your surroundings – what does the wind sound like in the trees, how does the rain feel on your face, how great does that meal you are cooking smell? Put your phone away and have a conversation or even just observe the people and things around you. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you discover!
“Do not look back and grieve over the past, for it is gone; and do not be troubled about the future, for it has yet to come. Live in the present, and make it so beautiful that it will be worth remembering”
― Ida Scott Taylor
Striving for perfection can get in our way when we are trying to make healthy changes. Perfectionism rarely leads to results, but it does lead to a boat load of fear of failure, stress and anxiety. What we should be focused on is progress and making those steps, no matter how small, towards a healthier lifestyle. Trying new things, making our mistakes, learning from them and, ultimately, trying again!
Change can feel overwhelming! I’ve given you a lot of tips here and it would seem insurmountable to try and incorporate all of them into your life immediately! Pick just a few, easy, doable things to start with and check them off your list. Celebrate your successes and embrace the progress of even the smallest change towards better health. Work on being consistent. Consistency isn’t perfection, it just means doing something more often than you don’t do it. Practice makes progress.
Leave a note in the comments telling me what you have incorporated, or what you are planning to incorporate, into your daily routine!
“Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame.
It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.”
The holidays, they are upon us! Thoughts of the holidays conjure up images of cool days and relaxing in front of a fire with your hands wrapped around a warm mug of something delicious. Joyful time spent with family and friends gathered around the dinner table and, for most of us at least, FOOD. Holiday food brings on ALL the warm fuzzies, with its memories of Grandma’s cheese biscuits and English trifle, Mom’s stuffing and shortbread and Dad’s famous caramel popcorn and nuts and bolts mix. As I set about planning my holiday menu this year, I thought back to the holidays of my childhood. Why does food figure so prominently? Why do I desire these foods at this time of year? And why do we now feel so much guilt associated with indulging in holiday treats? Two possible reasons came to mind. Firstly, for me, all my holiday food memories centre around something that was made, by hand and with love, by someone very dear to me. So is it the food that I feel a connection to or the memories of times spent with these loved ones? The answer seems pretty clear. Don’t get me wrong, if I could wrap my greedy fingers around one of Grandma’s cheese biscuits (gluten and all!) – fresh out of the oven and slathered in butter – I would! Sure, I could make them myself, but I won’t. It wouldn’t be the same, they wouldn’t be Grandma’s. I don’t need the food to sit and reminisce about all the great memories I have of past Christmases spent with loved ones. Secondly, back in the day, the excess of yummy, but not so good for you, food was the EXCEPTION to the rule. It was truly a special occasion treat. Only at the holidays did we have baking trays and little bowls of nibbles, boxes of chocolate that you would hunt through to find your favourite before your kid sister could nab it. Today, excess is all around us, and holiday treats have become available and consumed year round. They are no longer seasonal treats, but everyday occurrences and we are paying the price for this year round indulgence.
When we are trying to make healthier decisions and eat food that is nourishing for our bodies, navigating the holiday season and its endless parties, dinners and temptations can be stressful. How do you handle it? Do you avoid social gatherings as much as possible? If you do go out, do you only eat off the veggie tray? Do you throw in the towel and just start over in January with everyone else? Hopefully, none of the above!! I’ve compiled a list of tips to help you approach the holidays with a sense of excitement, enjoy the time with loved ones and get out the other side unscathed.
Happier, Healthier Holiday Tips
Prioritize Sleep – Even with ALL the stuff that needs doing around the holidays, keeping to a schedule and getting 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep a night is imperative. Lack of sleep can leave us feeling sluggish and more apt to overload on food and sugary treats as we seek out a boost of energy.
Don’t Skip Meals – Although it may seem logical to “bank” some calories before you head out to a holiday gathering, all it really accomplishes is making you cranky, over-hungry and on the rails of that dreaded blood sugar roller coaster. Don’t do it!! Instead…try this…
Eat Before You Go – Pre-party with a nourishing snack before you head out. Getting some good quality protein and healthy fats in before you head out will not only ensure that you have provided your body with some nutrients, but will keep you from succumbing to the temptations of the goodie platters later on.
Skip the High Calorie Bevvies – Alcohol has no nutritional value, is dehydrating, stresses the liver and awakens the craving monster! The mixers used in most cocktails are usually laden with sugar, colouring and other nasty ingredients. If you choose to imbibe, opt for mixers like sparkling water with lime or lemon wedges and ensure you drink water in between cocktails. Kombucha or sparkling water with some berries in a wine glass can feel just as festive! On that note…
Stay Hydrated – Not only can we mistake our body’s thirst signals for hunger, but dehydration can also contribute to fatigue, anxiety, irritability and cravings – none of which are things we want to deal with at any time, but especially during the holidays!
Don’t Forget the Self Care – Exercise, movement and meditation are important for stress management throughout the year, but particularly during the busy, hectic holiday season. Maintain your routine, it is much easier to keep doing something than to stop and have to start again (you know, that whole Newton’s First Law of Physics thing – an object in motion tends to stay in motion). Schedule it in, commit to it…you will be glad you did.
BYOD – Bring your own dish!! Offer to bring something to the party and you can ensure that there is at least ONE thing on the table that is nutrient dense, delicious and will fuel you properly! No one even needs to know it is a “healthier” alternative! In my experience, guests often rave about the dish without realizing they are eating something that’s nourishing. It can be our little secret!
Drop the Guilt – If you pay attention to any of these tips – pay attention to this one! NO GUILT! Allow room for some indulgences – Grandma’s cheese biscuits (or apple pie or whatever your special item is) won’t always be there and it’s ok to choose to enjoy it! Balanced with more nourishing meals, you can choose your indulgences, eat with intention, enjoy the heck out of it and then LET IT GO.
So, yes, holidays do bring up images of sugar cookies, gingerbread and other treats. But, what if we widen our focus on those pictures? What do we find? Images of our family and friends, coming together around the table to celebrate the season with us. THIS, my friends, is the true magic of the holidays. The sense of community and connection with those that mean the most to us. The food is just a bit player, bringing us to the table. This holiday season, use my tips to navigate the gatherings, fill up on quality time with family and friends and, just maybe, save a little room for one of Grandma’s famous cheese biscuits.