Taking Care of Your Health Outside of Food and Fitness

Taking Care of Your Health Outside of Food and Fitness

The way we discuss health in our culture is always centered around food and fitness. While what food goes into our body and how we move it certainly affects health, what’s more important is mental health. This posts discusses the importance of viewing health in a broader way, and 8 ways to take care of health that have nothing to do with food or fitness.

Read More

Defining What Really Matters: Are You Spending Your Energy Where It Counts?

Defining What Really Matters: Are You Spending Your Energy Where It Counts?

How much time and energy are you spending on the pursuit of thinness? Part of living a life well-nourished is putting your time and energy towards the things that are most important to you. This post is all about defining what really matters and putting your resources towards that. 

Read More

The Worst Thing You Can Eat: Part Deux

The Worst Thing You Can Eat: Part Deux

The worst thing you can eat isn't food - it's shame. Shame keeps you trapped in a cycle of unhealthy behaviors and feeling unworthy. Inspired by the work of shame researcher Brene Brown, this post talks about where guilt and shame play a role in unwanted eating behaviors, and how to get yourself out of the cycle of shame. 

Read More

Wellness Wednesday: Emotional Satiety - Life Itself Is The Proper Binge

My favorite quote by Julia Child is a reminder of the concept of emotional satiety. When we binge on life, there's no need to binge on food. 

Hallelujah! The site is finally up and running. My sincerest apologies to all of you for it being down for so long. I thought of it as just an inconvenience to me, but I received so many nice messages from my readers and clients. It really opened my eyes to how this little community plays a role in so many of your lives. So thank you. It's been a horrendously stressful couple of weeks and your kindness (and okay, a few generously poured glasses of wine) really got me through. 

For those who were wondering what happened, it's almost a funny story so many things went wrong. Or at least, it will be after a few therapy sessions. While on the airplane going to Chicago for my cousins wedding, my hard drive started to crash. Couldn't get it fixed until I got back home and then I had to drive up to Charlotte for the nearest Apple store (Cola-town FAIL). After working on a computer so old it still had aim installed for a couple days, I went up to Charlotte to pick up my computer and literally as I was in the apple store, I found out my website crashed. Since we were traveling to Philly for a wedding the next day, we stayed up crazy late working on it. The next morning at the airport, when I turned on my computer to work on it some more, guess what? It wouldn't turn on! Luckily there was an Apple store one block from our hotel and after they fit me in for an expedited appointment after learning what all had happened after I broke down sobbing in the middle of the store. Now it's fixed it (hopefully for good). Now, after spending a good chunk of my paycheck on malware removal and really simple fixes we just didn't know how to do, it's finally running. Phew. 

Okay, that's way more whining than is appropriate for a wellness post. Does your stomach feel like it's shrunken to a raisin from reading that? Cause that's how my stomach feels after typing it! Let's cheer ourselves up with some words from one of the most fabulous ladies to walk to walk this earth. 

“Life itself it the proper binge”

I’ve always loved this saying. Everything that’s come out of Julia Child’s mouth (and kitchen) is pure gold, but this quote in particular always stuck out to me. If there’s one thing we should take in with massive quantities all at once until we’re bursting at the seams, it’s life. I think of it as the foodie version of the popular mindfulness based advice to be present in every moment. By being mindful and taking in the opportunity presented with each moment, we’re able to figuratively suck the marrow out of life.

It also hints to a concept called emotional satiety. Bingeing and overeating is often triggered by an emotion rather than an uncontrollable desire to eat or a lack of willpower. When you’re satiated by life, you don’t feel a need to binge on food.

Eating is about more than food. Much of the work I do with my clients reflects that. You can learn how to bake cookies without added sugar and clean all the temptation food out of your kitchen, but if you don’t identify what’s behind your drive to binge or comfort yourself with food, then it’s unlikely you’ll make any real, sustainable changes to your eating habits.

Look to your food cravings as a clue to where you need more nourishment in life. Do you find yourself eating out of boredom? Try finding new hobbies or activities you find exciting. Stress eater? Maybe it’s time to build a meditation practice or work to eliminate your source of stress. Feeling lonely, like Ben and Jerry have become your closest friends? Try reaching out to old friends you’ve lost touch with or use sites like meetup to meet new people with similar interests.

Sometimes the clues aren’t so obvious. Eating issues can stem from a general dissatisfaction with life rather than one specific trigger. If you're trying to change your eating habits, also think about ways you can bring more joy into their life.

This quote could be easily mistaken to mean one should constantly do big, exciting, instagramable things. But while vacations and new romances and career changes are exciting, that's just part of life, and a much smaller part than runs to the grocery store, dog walks around the neighborhood and long commutes to work. To feel truly satiated, one most focus on bringing joy to the everyday.

So now I turn it over to you. How do you binge on life? What makes you feel satiated and joyful? Would love for you to share in the comments below!

Wellness Wednesday: What Daily Mindfulness Can Do For Your Brain

We all know mindfulness is helpful for destressing, but did you know it can change your brain? Learn what daily mindfulness can do for your brain in today's Wellness Wednesday post. 

What Daily Mindfulness Can Do For Your Brain

Hi all! Last week for Wellness Wednesday, I did a guest post over on my pal Emily's blog, Zen & Spice. This week, she's dropping by my little spot on the web to talk mindfulness. Let's take it over to her! 

Hi everyone! I’m Emily Hein, a private practice dietitian and food/wellness blogger based out of Dallas, Texas.

On my blog, Zen & Spice, you’ll find easy recipes using natural ingredients, a glimpse into my lifestyle, and meditation & mindfulness tips. I aim to inspire my clients and readers to fuel their body with real, unprocessed food and live for mindfully and in the present moment. I truly don’t remember a time when I wasn’t finding joy in health, nutrition and food!

Today I am so excited to be sharing a post on Avocado a Day Nutrition! I admire Rachael’s blog and especially her intuitive eating articles. As a fellow dietitian, I have gained great insight from reading her posts! The community of dietitian bloggers is amazing. Everyone is so helpful and supportive of one another.

Rachael wrote a fantastic guest post for my blog last week: 3 Ways You Can Start Intuitively Eating Today. As you readers probably know, Rachael blogs often about Intuitive Eating—the principle that becoming attuned to your body’s needs is the best way to achieve and sustain a happy, healthy weight that’s right for you. Another way to achieve and sustain a happy, healthy body (and mind) is to practice daily mindfulness and meditation.

I recently read an article in the Washington Post about meditation’s effect on the brain. A Harvard neuroscientist was one of the first to study the claimed benefits of mediation and mindfulness and test them in brain scans.

And guess what? Meditation actually changes your brain. The study showed that regular meditation is associated with decreased stress, depression, anxiety, pain, and insomnia. In long term meditators, the study showed an increased gray matter in the several areas of the brain associated with working memory and executive decision making. A 50-year old meditator had the same amount of gray matter as a 25 year old.

Another study showed that in people who have never meditated before, that in just 8 weeks of regular meditation, for about half an hour per day, their gray matter thickened in four regions that are associated with mind wandering, self-relevance, learning, cognition, memory, emotional regulation, perspective taking, empathy and compassion. The grey matter in the amygdala, associated with anxiety, fear and stress, got smaller.

Meditation teachers say even just ten minutes per day could have huge benefits. Mindfulness is a form of exercise for the brain. Just as exercise is good for physical health, meditation can do the same for mental health. Mental health is just as important, if not more so, than physical health.

What some people may not know about me is that I’ve struggled with anxiety my whole life. I have always been an anxious person, and it runs in my family. My biggest struggle was medical anxiety—fear of getting sick or something being wrong with me. It was at its worst during college and my dietetic internship—working in a hospital every day with extremely sick patients didn’t help. I knew I needed to change something, so I started reading about meditation and mindfulness and working them into my daily life.

Over time I have noticed the default reactions of my mind changing. Instead of defaulting to anxiety, fear or anger, I default to peace and understanding. Practicing reacting peacefully over time overwrites the default anger reaction.

So you want to get started with meditation and mindfulness—how long should you do it? The study I mentioned above says thirty minutes reaps the most benefits—but I think ten minutes is good for starters. Find a quiet, clean space in your home where you can sit comfortably (but not so comfortable that you fall asleep). A sturdy chair or a small cushion on the floor will work. Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes lightly. Inhale deeply and exhale. There are several types of sitting meditations you can do: sensory awareness (What do you hear? Feel? Smell? Focus on these things.), breath awareness (if you feel sleepy, focus on breaths through your nostril. If you feel distracted, focus on your abdomen), breath counting (count from 1-10, keeping your mind clear), or breathing with a mantra (“I am home”, or “Here, now”).

As good as I think a ten or twenty minute meditation is, it’s also helpful to try being mindful moment to moment throughout the whole day. That’s where the challenge is anyway—trying to be mindful during those stressful daily moments.

Here are a few simple mindfulness concepts you can incorporate into your day that won’t take too much time at all.

  • Ground yourself. Stay at full attention in the present moment. Whatever you’re doing, give it your full attention.
  • Listen intently to who you’re talking to. Give them your full attention. No phones, laptops, TVs, no distractions.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings—whether you’re inside out outside! Notice the trees, grass, the wind, details on buildings. You may see things you haven’t before, because you’ve been so distracted.
  • React with peace. Anger, sadness and anxiety are all natural human emotions—what matters is how we choose to react to these emotions. React with peace and know that these feelings will pass on their own time.

Practicing meditation and mindfulness for mental health is just as important as maintaining your physical health. When your mood and spirit are in the dumps, it’s very difficult to eat right and stay active. Consider incorporating a few daily mindfulness concepts to help relieve stress and help you achieve your health and wellness goals!

[Tweet "The powerful effect daily #mindfulness has on your brain by @zenandspice @RHartleyRD"]

Do you meditate? What mindfulness practices have you incorporated into your day?

Wellness Wednesday: How to Start a Meditation Practice

Meditation can be intimidating, especially for newbies. Before jumping in, read this and learn how to start a beginners meditation practice. 

I hope last week's post about the benefits of meditation got you excited to start a practice...but hopefully not so excited that you jumped right in without doing any research. Trust me, I know from experience that doesn't go so well.

When I first started practicing yoga, I was instantly smitten. Meditation didn't seem like a huge leap. I mean, it was basically built into the end of each yoga practice with shavasana.

So, I found a nice, comfy pillow, sat down cross legged and closed my eyes. Instantly, my mind jumped to my to-do list and I started worrying about what I should be doing instead of meditating. I noticed my heart rate jump - isn't meditation supposed to be calming? Then I felt an itch on my back, like, an intense one. The kind you want to take care of, Baloo the Bear-style. I decided scratching yourself while meditating is probably not allowed, so I concentrated intensely on it, willing it to go away.  Not only did it not work, but my foot started to itch. "Screw it," I said. I scratched, relieving my itch, but intensifying a sense of failure. About five minutes in, I opened my eyes, grabbed my cell phone to turned off the alarm I had ambitiously set for 30 minutes, and immediately checked facebook.

Clearly, I had no idea what I was doing.

It took me a few months to try again, but when I did, I studied first. As you can imagine, it went much better (although how could it go worse?). I've been practicing a couple years now, but by no means am I an expert. Frankly, I think I still qualify as a beginner and it's only now that I've been trying to build the habit of a consistent morning meditation practice. Still, I think I've learned enough to help a true newbie start. So alas, here's how to start beginners meditation, and what I wish I knew before I attempted!

PICK A TIME AND PLACE

Meditation is more effective if you practice at the same time of day and in the same location. For most, morning meditation is best. It starts the day on a good foot, and you'll be less likely to procrastinate as your to-do list grows. However, if there is another time that works better for you, go for it. Some people like to meditate in the middle of the day or during lunch break as a pick me up. Others prefer it at night, as a way to destress at the end of the day and promote a restful night of sleep. You can meditate any time you like - just make sure it works with your schedule and lifestyle, and that you won't be interrupted.

Next, choose a comfortable location. Meditating in the same spot will condition your mind to more quickly go into a meditative state. Sometimes I meditate in bed, because our mattress is just so darn comfortable and it's really warm and cozy in the morning, but I wouldn't recommend it. Find a corner in a quiet room where you can place a comfortable pillow or yoga mat. Keep your meditation spot simple, or bling it out with a fancy meditation pillow (<--- I want!), candles and music. I usually use the comfy papasan chair in the corner of the bedroom, or when it's covered in dirty clothes (which is frequently), my yoga mat and a fleece blanket to keep me warm.

START SMALL

Bless my heart for thinking I could meditate for thirty minutes on my first try. Just like with dieting, people often want to start off big, but usually, that leaves you frustrated and feeling like a failure. You'll be more successful, at both meditation and at building the actual habit, if you start out small and build from there.

I recommend starting with 2-3 minutes, and certainly no longer than 5. Even on days you have zero willpower, it's hard to skip out or procrastinate on something that takes only a couple minutes. And even that little bit of time is enough to have a powerful impact on your day.

FOSTER A BEGINNERS MINDSET

There's a reason it's called a meditation practice. The first time you meditate, you won't have a deep aha moment or profound metaphysical experience. Stress won't disappear into thin air. You might even feel worse after meditating, especially if something negative pops up or if you went in with high expectations of the results. Let go of expectations and focus on the experience.

MEDITATE

Before meditating, stretch for a minute to release any tension, which can be distracting when you're laying down still for a period of time. Set an alarm with a pleasant ring. I use the chimes ringtone on my iphone. Sit or lay down in a comfortable position in your designated meditation area. If it's cold, wrap yourself in a blanket. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, slowly breathing in and out. Concentrate on your breath. Don't try to change your breathing - just breathe naturally and observe. A mental image can be helpful. I like to imagine the oxygen flowing into my lungs, through my blood vessels and into my body as I breathe in, and then leaving my body as I exhale. You could also visualize waves rising and falling or flower petals opening and closing.

Guided meditations are also helpful, especially for beginners. UCLA offers free guided meditations, many that are five minutes or less. Depak Chopra also offers meditations on his site, although some are oddly specific (awaken your summer love?).

Your mind will wander. That's okay and 100% normal.  Simply notice that your mind is wandering, without judgement or feeling bad about it, and direct your attention back to your breath. The more you practice, the quicker you'll notice when your mind begins to wander, and the easier it'll be to stay focused.

Once you get in the habit of meditating at a regular time, start to increase the duration of your meditation or start meditating multiple times during the day. Figure out a pattern that works for you.

INCORPORATE MINDFULNESS THROUGHOUT THE DAY

Deepen your meditation practice by incorporating mindfulness in to your daily activities. Think about the little things you do every day that don't require much attention, like doing the dishes, getting dressed, or driving to work. These are often the times we focus on our to-do lists or negative thoughts and can most benefit from mindfulness. Mindful eating is a great example, but also think of mindful runs, mindful cooking, or mindful cleaning.

For me, I realized walking the dogs in the morning was oddly one of the more stressful times of my day. My mind would fixate on my to do list or other negative thoughts. So, I started taking mindful walks. To do this, I imagined my eyes as a video camera. Sounds odd, but then again this is an article on meditation, so you had to expect some weirdness. Because a video camera captures everything without judging, it's the perfect metaphor. Now, instead of cruising on autopilot, I notice the flowers blooming in a neighbors yard, the historic details on the houses and the gnarled branches of an old oak tree.

EXPERIMENT

There is no right or wrong way to meditate, just what works for you. Experiment with different methods, like body scan (my personal favorite), keeping your eyes open and focusing on one point, or focusing on sounds instead of your breath. There's other methods like kundalini yoga or transcendental meditation you could try (I haven't, but let me know if you have!). Try changing positions from sitting to laying down or visa versa. You might find a mantra is helpful. It's common to use Sanskrit sayings, but why not come up with something meaningful to you. Since "live joy, give joy" is my 2015 theme, it felt natural to use it as a mantra. As I take a breath in, I imagine breathing in joy, and as I breathe out, I imagine sending joy out into the world. Again, it's odd, but it deepens my practice. And it's hard not to end with a big smile.

I think the hardest thing about meditation for many people is that there are no rules. But that's the beauty of it. Don't be afraid to discover what works for you. This is your practice.

Have you ever meditated? If so, what helped you start a practice? If not, what intimidates you about starting a practice?