Minding Your Stress Bucket

Minding Your Stress Bucket

Well Hello!! It’s been a minute since I’ve posted anything on here. Does anyone else feel like the days are going by faster since this whole pandemic thing started? I mean, it’s JULY already! Where did the last 4 months go?

I could use every excuse in the book as to why I haven’t been blogging regularly. I’ve been prepping for an upcoming board exam and working on my business. I wanted to be outside in the warm(ish) weather and, perhaps more than anything else, I needed to get away from my computer screen. Is anyone else just TOTALLY “Zoomed” out? Although these are all fine reasons, the truth is, I just really needed to drop some stuff out of my bucket.

I imagine our body’s ability to deal with stressors like a big bucket, a stress bucket. Everyone’s bucket is different. Some are a little smaller than others and fill up more quickly, whereas others are quite large and can hold quite a bit! 

Our bodies are built to handle quite a lot of stress, in all it’s different forms. They protect us from immediate dangers by initiating our fight or flight response. They deal with foreign invaders, like bacteria and viruses, through our immune response. They deal with and eliminate toxins we produce or ingest – but they weren’t built for the multitude of stressors in this modern life of ours.

Many things take up room in our stress buckets:

Mental and Emotional Stressors

  • Work, Relationship or Financial issues
  • Feelings of anger, sadness, loneliness, depression, anxiety and worry

Physiological Stressors

  • Lack of sleep
  • Toxins in our environment or diet – pesticides, chemicals in household and personal products, processed foods, sugar, unhealthy fats, EMF exposure, pollution
  • Nutrient deficiencies from a poor diet
  • Illness or injury
  • Over or under exertion

Our bodies work exceedingly hard to manage all these stressors and keep that ol’ bucket from overflowing. They strive for balance (or homeostasis) at all times, even if that means stealing energy and nutrients from one system in the body to keep another from crashing and burning. You can see that, without bailing some of those stressors out of the bucket, resources eventually run out. We become less resilient to the effects of stress of our body. That’s when we start to see illness and chronic disease . rear their ugly little heads. Think about Christmas holidays. It’s pretty common for people to get sick right around the holiday season. We’ve got parties and menus to plan, we are dealing with a lot of family and trying to keep everyone happy. We are often financially stressed and, of course, we are ingesting a lot of maybe not so nutritious foods and beverages. That’s a lot of stuff being dropped in our stress buckets at one time – especially if our bucket was already half full! Eventually, things start to slop over the rim and we end up miserable, nursing a cold and just praying for it all to be over.

So back to my absence from the blog. Let’s see how my stress bucket was faring….

  • I’m preparing for the Holistic Nutrition Board Exam
  • I’ve just recently joined a networking group that requires me to prepare and deliver a short speech on a weekly basis (This is like a mini pailful of stress added to my bucket every week. Public speaking is well outside of my comfort zone!)
  • I’m working on managing Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (an autoimmune disease), which among symptoms like fatigue and lack of motivation, is causing me to lose hair like crazy. Seriously, my cat and are are competing to see who can leave the most hairballs around the house! Not the end of the world, but my vanity would disagree. Definitely contributing to some emotional stress!
  • I’m a small business owner in an economic downturn, trying my darnedest to make a go of this entrepreneur thing and contribute to our household finances.
  • We are in the midst of this pandemic – so, like many, I’m feeling a little isolated. I’m also homesick for my Canadian brethren and not knowing when I’ll be able to see family and friends across the border is tough!
  • Of course, I eat a pretty decent diet (gotta walk the talk), but I’ll admit that some comfort foods started making a frequent appearance on my plate. I got a little TOO into baking grain free scones for a while there.
  • I try to keep my toxin exposure as minimal as possible by buying organic, using safer personal products and cleaning with Norwex products, but I had been putting in a LOT of screen time between Zoom meetings and scouring social media for all the latest “viral” news.
  • My sleep has been wonky due to worrying about all of the above!

So there you have it – not a terrible list, but I was starting to feel a little bit of overwhelm. So, I listened to what my body was whispering to me before it began SHOUTING. I had to take the ladle to the bucket and lighten the load before it overflowed. I put the blogging on hold so I could focus on some other, behind the scenes, business stuff. I ditched the homemade treats and refocused on incorporating lots of bright, colourful veggies in my diet. I mixed up my workouts and added in some nice neighbourhood walks with the hubby. I gave myself permission to NOT be a perfect public speaker on my zoom calls and to start to accept that being uncomfortable is part of growth. I’ve been utilizing breathing exercised and getting outside more

Ways to Lighten the Load in Your Buckets

  1. Breathing Techniques – Check out this website for some inspiration.
  2. Tapping – Learn more here .
  3. Reframing – Did you know that the difference between excitement and anxiety often lies in how we interpret them? Find out more here.
  4. Movement – Any type of movement helps drain our stress bucket by promoting feel good endorphins and burning off excess stress hormone (cortisol). Stick with lower intensity activities if your bucket is really full. Overexertion can ADD to the bucket if your system is already taxed.
  5. Getting outdoors – Soak up some sun, breathe some fresh air and connect with nature!
  6. Hydrating – Most people are walking around dehydrated, try to consume half your body weight in ounces of clean, filtered water daily.
  7. Prioritize sleep – Aim for 7 to 8 hours a night.
  8. Take a break from the screens!! Not only can the blue light from our devices affect our sleep, the constant barrage of crazy from social media feeds isn’t doing anybody’s stress levels any favours.
  9. Do your best to avoid toxins in your food products, cleaning supplies and personal products – Some great brands to check out are BeautyCounter, Native and Norwex
  10. Eat a nutrient rich diet – Avoid processed and refined foods and focus on eating ALL the colours of the rainbow.

There’s no way to avoid stress completely – in fact, some stress is good for us. It gives us a sense of purpose and motivation. But everyone’s perception of stress will differ and what is only a “drop in the bucket” to one person may be a tsunami to someone else. So take stock of what is in your stress bucket and, if it’s feeling like it’s getting a little too full – it’s time to put a hole in that bucket, dear Liza. (I REALLY hope someone gets that reference!)

The Monday Mention – Wired to Eat by Robb Wolf

The Monday Mention - Wired to Eat by Robb Wolf

I have been following Robb Wolf since he released his first book, The Paleo Solution, back in 2010. Our CrossFit community had formed a book club of sorts and Robb’s book was first on the list. Since then, I’ve followed along as he’s broadened his reach into podcasting, seminars and health coaching. I enjoy his no-nonsense, humour laden writing style so when he released his second book, Wired To Eat, I knew it would be making it to my bookshelf fairly quickly.

In broad terms, Wired To Eat focuses on exactly that – ancestrally, we are wired to eat as much as we can for survival. Our ancestors needed to eat all they could when food was plentiful to prepare for times of famine. In today’s world of hyper palatable, processed foods that are super convenient to procure or even have delivered right to your home – our wiring is creating a multitude of problems. As the author states, if you are “not fat, sick and diabetic, you are, from a biological perspective, ‘screwing up’” (pg.13). We ARE wired to eat, but to eat foods that are whole and unprocessed and to have to expend a lot of energy sourcing these foods. Modern diets are devoid of both of these factors and we are paying the price. By following the concepts laid out in Wired To Eat, readers can work toward balancing their blood sugar, decreasing insulin resistance, repairing their appetites and preventing chronic disease states.

Although both of Wolf’s books are similar in style and promote a “Paleo” style approach to eating, I found it interesting to see how his dietary lens has shifted in the last decade. Wired To Eat focuses much more on people’s bioindividuality. Yes, he still promotes the paleo approach and a low carbohydrate, whole foods diet, but he specifies that this way of eating is just a starting point. It is a way to rewire your body to a whole, natural foods appetite and then focus on customizing it to your own unique needs. The book focuses mainly on carbohydrate tolerance by testing the affects of certain carbohydrates on blood sugar levels. The main takeaway, however, is that no one diet is perfect for everyone and we must do the work to find out what works best for our own “wiring”.

The bioindividual approach of this book lines up perfectly with my beliefs as a Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. Beyond diet, the author also delves into the importance of non-dietary factors, such as sleep, community, stress and movement on one’s overall health. He spends a lot of time on these areas, seeing them as pillars of health, just as important as diet. These are all areas of focus in my practice as well.

I think this book would be a good, informational read for any reader. So many people try a “Paleo” style diet as a last resort and I feel we must educate people to incorporate a whole foods, ancestral type diet before they are in crisis. The information in this book can be quite scientific and some may feel a little overwhelmed by it. However, Wolf does a great job making the information as approachable and enjoyable to read as possible. I think Wired To Eat would be a great resource in combination with working with a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who can clarify specific ideas and be available for further discussion. Anyone who has become “carb-phobic” would also benefit from this resource, as it can slowly guide them through the process of adding in certain carbohydrates and finding out how well they handle them.

Wired To Eat highlights the importance of bioindividuality. It delves deep into the why and how of personalized nutrition and how lifestyle choices also play a vital role in one’s health. Through his humour and casual writing style, Robb Wolf makes these topics both accessible and enjoyable for his readers and provides a plan that makes changing one’s dietary outlook and health doable.

Rating 4.5 Peaks
My Rating: 4.5/5 Peaks

Corona Virus – Keep Calm and Support Your Immune System

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?

Corona Virus - Keep calm and Support your Immune System

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. 😉

20 Tips For Your Healthiest Year Yet!

20 Tips For Your Healthiest Year Yet

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.

For a more complete list, check out www.beautycounter.com or https://www.ewg.org/californiacosmetics/toxic20

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
  • 1,4-dioxane
  • Nonylphenol ethoxylate
  • Synthetic fragrances
  • Anionic surfactants
  • Petroleum distillates
  • Phenols
  • Optical brighteners
  • Sodium hypochlorite bleach
  • Ethylene-diamino-tetra-acetate

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.

Safer Alternatives

  • 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.”

Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection