Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Little Piece Of Peace For The Holidays

The holiday season is upon us and it can be such an intrinsically stressful time of year for so many people. But if we are mindful and aware, we can make it less stressful and more meaningful. I often think about how, if it weren't for the holiday rush that so many find themselves caught up in, December would be a quiet and restful month. As seasonal cycles go, it's a time of rest and darkness, and if we are in tune with those cycles, we can use this time of the year to slow down, look within, and breathe.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, this is the kidney/water element season. The energy of the kidneys includes the adrenals, which, of course, release stress hormones. Ideally, this is the season where we slow down and turn our energy within, but that doesn't always happen. The extra holiday stress that we subject ourselves to can really weaken our adrenals, not to mention do a number on our immune system, so this is a great excuse to tell ourselves to slow down and prioritize wellness, rather than run ourselves ragged.

I'm going to discuss a few simple things you can do to lessen the stress and get more out of this season of darkness and quietness and avoid being overwhelmed by the holiday crush. Don't underestimate the power of self-care. I know that it's often easier to just crash in front of the tv or tell ourselves that we don't have time, but realistically, we can make it happen if we rearrange our priorities and voice our needs to our families. Don't put your needs last (I'm especially talking to you moms out there!). Doing one or more of these things can go a really long way toward preserving holiday sanity and well being.

After getting a wake-up call in the form of a head cold after a period of stress, lack of sleep, travel, and overindulgence, I was forced to slow down and respect my body. Hopefully, you can avoid the same by slowing down and paying attention. Here are some simple and doable strategies to stay well and sane over the holidays:

#1: Give your mind a break.
I know, I know. Meditation isn't the easiest thing for a lot of us. But I think that there are ways to make it easier. And, as we are our brainwave activity, it's so worth it to take a little time out and give our brain a break. One of those ways is Calm.com. This nifty little website has mesmerizing music and visuals that you can just listen to, stare at, and zone out to, or you can choose the guided relaxation setting, which is really helpful for those of us who hold tension in our bodies. You can set the timer for as little as two minutes, or as much as 20 minutes, so there's no excuse not to take a little break. There's even an iphone app!

#2: Deep breathing.
This is one that most of us ignore, yet our breathing patterns directly influence central nervous system functioning and breathing can make all the difference as to whether you're cranking out stress hormones or in parasympathetic rest-and-digest mode. Speaking of rest-and-digest, taking a moment to do 10-20 deep belly breaths before every meal can make a world of difference in how we digest our food. Plus, it primes us to slow down at meal times and eat our food more mindfully. Here's my favorite video for learning how to breathe in a way that will switch on our rest-and-digest mode. It's also extremely beneficial to start and end your day with a few minutes of deep breathing. Get some oxygen to that brain!

#3: Practice hygge.
What the heck is hygge? Hygge (pronounced "hyoogeh") is a Danish term that loosely translates to "coziness." The concept of hygge is all about cultivating warmth, coziness, closeness, and quality of life to offset the darkness of winter (though you can create hygge all year round). Hygge encompasses things such as a small gathering of good friends, lighting some candles to offset the gloom, curling up with a cup of tea and a good book and spending a little quality cozy time with yourself, or cooking a nice meal and setting a pretty table just for the heck of it. Winter is the perfect time to practice hygge, to boost our moods and improve our quality of life.

How do I practice hygge? I've been lighting candles on dreary days (a luxury I used to neglect), putting on music while I cook, taking baths with essential oils like fir and grapefruit that boost my mood, making cups of fragrant herbal tea, having an occasional glass of wine with dinner, and avoiding things like the news and negative people that bring me down. Even looking at beautiful art or pictures of nature helps. I also plan on spending more low-key time with good friends. All of these things give my mood and heart a boost.

#5: Therapeutic baths.

I think baths are one of the most underrated forms of self care. It's so easy to neglect them because they take time and effort, but on the other hand, the very time and effort it takes to draw and take a bath is a way of affirming that you're worth it (we all need to affirm that from time to time!). There's something intrinsically calming about being submerged in warm, soothing water and I'm convinced it induces beneficial brainwave changes.

You can get the most out of a therapeutic bath by adding inexpensive epsom salts (I like to add a whole bunch), which delivers beneficial magnesium transdermally, or you could also use magnesium chloride flakes to really pack a magnesium punch. Essential oils are wonderful for calming and/or boosting mood- here is a list of essential oils for stress relief. If chlorine is a concern when bathing (it is for me), there are inexpensive bath filters like this one.

#6: Practice gratitude.
I know that this one is kind of cliché, but, seriously, it's not just some hippy-dippy concept. This one is rooted in neuroscience and neuropsychology. Our brain has a natural negative bias, which I like to think of as the backdrop against which we experience life. Negative events register more deeply in our brain than positive ones do, so it's helpful to take time to remember and think about things that are good. And when something good is happening, take 30 seconds to really be present, feel it, and let it sink in. The more we do this, the more we begin to form new neural networks that shift our brain's bias more toward the positive. When this happens, the backdrop begins to change and the lens through which we filter our experiences also changes and we become more naturally positive.

#7: Stress support supplements.
Sometimes stress is just unavoidable, but at least there are supplements that can take the edge off or change how we handle stress. This can make a world of difference! My favorite anti-stress supplements are L-Theanine, Rhodiola, and Stresscare. A formula that works well for me that I discovered by accident when it didn't help with sleep but gave me a definite daytime mood boost and calming effect is Dragon Herbs Lights Out. Some people may also benefit from Rescue Remedy, which can be handy to keep in your purse or pocket.

I hope these suggestions will take the edge off of the holiday stress and I wish you all a peaceful and meaningful holiday season.


Monday, September 9, 2013

End of Summer

I haven't blogged all summer, so I thought I'd do a catching up post. It's been a pretty good summer for me, with the weather in Nashville not being quite as oppressively hot and humid as usual. Yay for that.

I'll tell you about some of the things I've been up to all summer:
-picking blackberries
-making the delicious blueberry crumble from Balanced Bites
-reading Why Isn't My Brain Working? (review to come)
-helping my hubby with his first short film
-building dense muscles with Physique 57
-helping a friend start a business (more on that later)
-taking my annual trip to northern Michigan (lots of glorious beach time!)
-eating loads of good food in MI (highlights were 9 Bean Rows and The Towne Plaza)
-picking horsetail in my childhood woods
-going to my first pow-wow
-having an autoimmune thyroid flare (Good times. Not.)
-finally making it over to a delightful tea and herb shop in town

I'm still sort of recovering from the flare, though I'm feeling much better. I believe it was due to a Chinese herbal formula I had started taking. Gotta be careful with herbs when it comes to autoimmunity!

Anyway, I'll be back to proper blogging soon.
Hope you also had a good summer!


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Peek Into My Current Supplement Regimen

I believe in getting nutrients from food whenever possible. I also believe that it's sometimes easier said than done due to things like soil depletion and genetic glitches, and sometimes certain health situations warrant a little help from our supplement pals. So, I take supplements based on my specific health issues.

I'm always curious about what supplements other people take (I often compare arsenals with friends!), and I thought you might be curious about what I'm taking.
So, here's a look at my current regimen (please note that this information is for educational purposes only and isn't intended to tell you what you should take!):

-Natural Factors Methycobalamin 5000 mcg

I have a history of megaloblastic anemia and symptoms of low B-12. I'm not sure if it was from being a vegetarian for so long, from autoimmune disease, or if I lack intrinsic factor. But low B-12 isn't something you want to mess around with because it really impacts your brain and eventually results in neurological damage. Methylcobalamin is one of the active, methlyated forms of B-12, and in sublingual lozenge form it's ready to be absorbed right into the bloodstream and go to work. I take 10,000-15,000 mcg.

-Health From The Sun Evening Primrose Oil 500 mg

Some people are terrified of any form of Omega 6 fat, but we do need some. And not everyone converts O-6 into Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA) efficiently. GLA inhibits the formation of inflammatory prostaglandins, which translates to things like relief from menstrual cramps and help for skin conditions like eczema.
Sources of GLA like Evening Primrose and Borage Seed oil can be helpful in many inflammatory conditions. I take Evening Primrose to help with hormone balance and for hair issues related to Hashimoto's (autoimmune thyroid disease). My dosage varies with my menstrual cycle and is between 500-1500 mg.

-Jarrow Selenium Synergy

Selenium is important for thyroid hormone conversion and, in the case of Hashimoto's, for managing antibodies. Selenium is also a great antioxidant, reduces cancer risk, and is involved in reproductive health. You can also get selenium from brazil nuts, but I don't always feel like eating brazil nuts.

-New Chapter Wholemega fish oil

Fish oil quality can be pretty iffy due to the manufacturing process which often includes distillation, subjecting the delicate omega 3 fats to heat. Heat, oxygen, and light = oxidized, rancid omega 3's.
I like this one because it's not nearly as refined as most and contains some naturally occurring astaxanthin for extra benefits. I don't usually take it on days that I eat salmon.

-Natural Factors CurcuminRich

This curcumin is THE. BOMB. It's the most well absorbed form on the market and you don't need as big of a dose as other brands. I use it to keep my autoimmune response balanced and, if I injure myself, I take extra to reduce the inflammation. I think it also helps with menstrual cramps. Curcumin is an all-around fabulous preventative supplement.

Jarrow N-A-C Sustain

N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is an amino acid that increases glutathione production. Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant, detoxifier, and a deficiency is present in autoimmune thyroid disease. I've also found it helpful for fighting off colds.

-Natural Factors D3 drops

This is vitamin D3 in olive oil and nothing else. The main reason I take D3 year round is that it's an important immune modulator. My dosage fluctuates seasonally. Right now I'm taking 3000 I.U.

-Nutricology Magnesium Chloride liquid

We all need magnesium. You've probably heard that it's involved in over 300 essential metabolic reactions in the body. It's vital for the absorption of calcium and it's essential for proper vitamin D utilization. The chloride form is well absorbed and this product is nothing but magnesium chloride, water and lactic acid- no fillers. I like it because it's easier on my G.I. tract than mag. citrate and I don't need a big dose to feel the effectiveness. My dosage varies according to symptoms like muscle soreness, but I usually take 1/2- 1 tsp.

There you have it- my current regimen. I use other things here and there like gelatin powder, dessicated liver powder, and undenatured, grass-fed whey protein, but I consider those to be more like foods than supplements.

Hope you enjoyed a little glimpse into my arsenal!


Friday, June 7, 2013

Avocado Oil: Beauty Magic In a Bottle

Wow, long time, no see, eh? Just when you thought I was gone for good, I'm finally back (and it's already summer! Sheesh!!). Sorry for such a long absence; I just hadn't felt like blogging in awhile, but now I do again and I'm back on the ball. So, on to one of my favorite subjects: beauty oils!

Using oils for skin and hair care is all the rage these days. From argan oil for hair and skin to olive and castor oils for the oil cleaning method, to the ever ubiquitous coconut oil, which is extra popular in Paleo/Primal culture, oils are everywhere.

I'm no stranger to oils, being the skin care adventurer that I am. Over the years, I've experimented with numerous oils, including olive, almond, hazelnut, rose hip, coconut (which actually dries my face out), castor, pomegranate, sea buckthorn, camellia, grapeseed, marula, argan, tamanu, sunflower, jojoba, and more. That's a lot of oils.
But there is one that stands above the rest for me in terms of skin and hair improvement and that is extra virgin avocado oil.

I've been using avocado oil as my facial and body moisturizer for awhile now and it has the magical ability to soften rough skin, deeply hydrate, refine skin texture, calm redness, plump fine lines, balance oiliness, and keep pores cleaner.
In addition to using it to moisturize, a few months ago I also started using it to cleanse my skin at night and that's when I saw a pretty dramatic increase in benefits. I have combination skin that tends toward dehydration and clogged pores as well as irritation and mild redness.

I no longer have to exfoliate my skin every other day- the cell turnover seems to have increased, and now my skin is super silky! The texture is much better than before, and the coarse areas are now baby-smooth. The redness is definitely reduced, while at the same time my cheeks have more color. Nice! My skin just looks better and healthier.

So, let me tell you some more about my BFF oil and its myriad benefits for the skin and hair:

-Avocado oil is one of the more deeply penetrating oils. It gets down into the deeper epidermis layers and helps to fix moisture into the skin. This makes it great for plumping out fine lines and dealing with dehydrated skin (even oily skin can be dehydrated!), as well as softening rough skin. Even though it feels thick, if used properly, it fully absorbs and doesn't leave an oily residue. The fatty acids are also similar to the skin's own sebum and are non-clogging.

-It's rich in healing vitamins B, C, D, E, K and, especially, A (like a natural retinol alternative, increasing cell-turnover), as well as potassium, lecithin, and chlorophyll.

-It has a high sterolin content. Sterolins are compounds which are anti-inflammatory and immune modulating. In the case of avocado oil, they can help heal sun damage and age spots, as well as inflammatory skin conditions like blemishes and eczema.

-It has been shown in a study to increases the amount of soluble collagen in the skin and improve wound healing. This translates to better skin repair and anti-aging benefits, as well as better elasticity and thicker, more resilient skin.

-It has a low level of UV protection (about an SPF of 6-8). Coupled with the high vitamin and sterolin content, it's definitely helpful for preventing sun damage (of course, use a non-toxic sunscreen if you're going to be out in the sun all day).

-It penetrates the hair shaft better than most other oils due to its monounsaturated fat content and makes a great pre-wash conditioning treatment. I started getting compliments on my hair after I began using avocado oil to treat my hair!

How to use it:
So, now that you know all about the wonders of avocado oil, here are some tips on how to use it so that you have a good experience with it. But first off, quality matters. I've used a number of brands and, by far, my favorite in terms of texture, smell, and performance is Olivado Extra Virgin from New Zealand. I find it to be less viscous than other brands of the virgin oil. You can also get cosmetic grade refined avocado oil, but my skin responds better to the dark green nutrient rich virgin oil. Chosen Foods makes an excellent naturally refined avocado oil that's neutral smelling (and tasting!) so you can still get the awesome hydrating qualities of avocado oil without smelling like an avocado.

For cleansing
I just do the basic oil cleansing technique: I massage the oil into my skin for a minute (this feels so nice!) and then I remove it with a cotton ball. I then steam my face for about a minute with a hot wash cloth and wipe any remaining oil off (this is important because you're dealing with dirty oil!). I follow up with my toner. My skin usually feels comfortable and hydrated enough that I don't need to use more oil after cleansing.

For facial moisturizing
I always mix my facial oil with a little water or toner in my palm before massaging it into my face and neck. This makes a HUGE difference in how it absorbs, as well as helps to fix more water into your skin. Start with just a couple of drops of oil. You don't need a lot.

For hair
This is super easy: I just massage a little into the bottom 2/3 of my dry hair (I don't soak my hair in it) and leave it in for a little while- often only 10 minutes while I make and drink my morning tea- and then I wash it out in the shower at the very end. I usually don't even need any conditioner. I use it 1-2 times/week.

For body

I just slather it on my body after showering, when my skin is still a little damp. Do I smell like an avocado? Totally! But I don't mind and the scent doesn't linger very long. I find it makes my skin so silky, helps with keratosis pilaris (due to the vitamin A content), and keeps my skin hydrated longer than other oils.

Now, go have some fun with some avocado oil!

P.S.- you can also use it to make salad dressing and mayo.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Chicken and Biscuits

Sorry for my New Year's hiatus. To make up for being AWOL thus far in 2013, I'm posting a recipe. Everyone likes those, so we're cool, right?

Lately my wonderful husband has gotten into cooking chickens in our 1970 crock pot (you know, the avocado green one?) He's even been making bone broth with the chicken carcasses. Seriously, guys, want to win big points with the wife/girlfriend? Make bone broth.

I'm really digging crock pot chicken; it's so juicy and moist. Here's the technique we've been using: chop some onions into 1/4 inch chunks and throw into the bottom of the crock pot, stuff some fresh herbs into the chicken cavity (rosemary and thyme are nice) and sprinkle the skin with salt and pepper, place on top of the onions and cook on low for about 3.5- 4 hours, depending on the size of the bird.

Hubby cooked a chicken the other night and I thought it would be fun to make chicken pot pie, but then decided I didn't want to mess with making a crust, so chicken and biscuits was my lazier alternative. I adapted the biscuit recipe from the cobbler topping in this recipe.
Husband just declared, while eating some leftovers tonight, that it was one of his favorite dishes ever.

Chicken and Biscuits (serves 4-6)

Preheat oven to 400º


1/4 cup coconut flour
2 TB blanched almond flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 egg, beaten
2 TB softened butter
3 TB cream
(optional- cracked pepper, fresh rosemary, fresh thyme)

Mix all ingredients well and let sit for a couple of minutes to allow the flour to absorb the liquid.

Chicken/veggie mixture:

1 1/2 cups mirepoix (equal amounts of diced carrots, onions and celery)
1/2 cup diced mushrooms (I prefer cremini/baby bella)
2 cups diced or shredded chicken meat
3/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup cream
2 tsp. tapioca starch
1/4-1/2 tsp. fresh thyme (I didn't really measure it).
salt and pepper to taste
oil/grease/butter for sauteing

Saute the mirepoix and mushrooms in the oil/grease/butter until softened.
Add the broth, cream, and seasonings and whisk the tapioca starch into the mixture while continuing to cook over medium heat until it begins to thicken. After it slightly thickens, add the chicken and transfer to the casserole dish (I used a 10.5 inch oval dish).

Divide the biscuit dough into 6 discs, place atop the chicken mixture and bake at 400º for 10-12 minutes, or until the biscuits are cooked through and slightly golden.