Reduce Stress / Find Comfort

rest

Stress is a constant in most of our lives.  It’s sometimes subtle and sometimes overt, but it always takes a toll on our health. In fact, most Americans suffer from a condition known as “Chronic Stress.” I make this distinction because stress itself is neither positive or negative. There is even a term—“eustress”—which refers to positive stressors in our lives—factors that provide motivation, inspiration and drive. However, over time, even eustress can result in the development of Chronic Stress. Chronic Stress is the condition in which the body’s natural coping mechanism can no longer effectively respond to one’s total stress burden.

When our evolutionary development is considered, this makes a lot of sense. Our bodily stress response was developed to deal with acute stress, i.e. being chased by a saber-toothed tiger. As a result, the body’s response to stress is to divert energy away from cellular repair, digestion and hormone regulation (not much point regenerating those organs, assimilating that meal or prepping to have a baby if you’re dead), and instead puts energy toward muscle contraction and adrenal stimulation to run away—very quickly.

The adrenal glands are our bodies’ chemical energy reserves. They are there just in case that saber-toothed tiger jumps out from behind a bush when you havn’t had a meal in a while. The adrenals kick in, giving you a jolt of adrenaline that allows your body to perform physically, even without proper fuel from food. You may have heard to the term “adrenal fatigue.” When the adrenals are constantly being activated due to stress they burn out, not only inhibiting this response to acute stress but also throwing many other systems in our body out of whack.

The following are the most common signs and symptoms of Chronic Stress and the resulting adrenal fatigue:

  • Blood sugar imbalances (craving sugary or starchy foods and/or dramatic changes in energy throughout the day)
  • Low thyroid function (identified through medical testing)
  • Decreased fertility (could manifest as irregular menstrual cycles)
  • Depression
  • Poor cognitive performance (poor memory or fuzzy thinking)
  • Poor wound healing
  • Decreased bone density (identified through medical tests or frequent fractures)
  • Fatigue (especially the pattern of not feeling awake until late morning, feeling tired late-afternoon but then better in the evening and getting a late-evening spike in energy)
  • Lowered immune function (getting sick often, slow recovery from illness or irregular WBC count)
  • Dysbiosis (poor digestion or gas/bloating after meals)
  • Cold intolerance
  • Salt cravings
  • Low blood pressure (for some people)

Sound like you? Not surprising. The typically American lifestyle and diet is practically tailor-made to put people on this track. Here are some suggestions to manage and correct Chronic Stress: Continue reading

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Eating Beyond the Numbers

Photograph By Richard Burbridge
 What with all the news stories on pink slime, antibotic resistant bacteria in our meat, GMOS, the obesity epidemic and all that other fun stuff, it seems like there is more and more interest in what we ought to be putting in our bodies. On the whole, I think this is totally awesome. After all, all change must start with education. But (and it’s a big but), almost all the pop-culture nutritional information I’m seeing is grossly over-simplified. And it’s not that proper nutrition is even particularly complicated, per se.

The most common fallacy I see over and over again is the assertion that weight loss (or gain) is all a simple equation of calories in versus calories out. The simplicity of this concept is certainly tempting, but this is simply not true. Our body is far more complex than this teeter-totter equation.

Consider this: each second around 400 billion chemical reactions are occurring in your body. Each of those processes requires co-factors, chemicals that assist with these reactions. Some of these co-factors are made internally but many of them must be acquired from outside of ourselves, generally through our diet. Co-factors in our diet are the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients we consume in our food. The food we ingest acts as a message to our body. When we eat nutrient-dense foods, our bodies are providing with all the necessary cofactors to break down that food and turn it into energy. When we eat food that lacks micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients), our body turns it into glucose but then lacks the co-factors necessary to complete the chemical reactions required to process that glucose into energy. Continue reading

The Heart/Liver Link

My head feels so stuffed with information, I’m surprised it’s not coming out my ears. The pace at school has really picked up over the last couple of months and it’s all so fascinating. I feel as though I could write hundreds of blog posts on everything we’ve been learning—but alas, I barely find the time to do my homework. One of the most fascinating subjects we’ve delved into recently has been fat, and the link (or lack thereof) to heart disease. I’ve personally seen so many people in my life grappling with heart disease, I feel it’s important to get this information out there – please share it!

As a culture, we’ve been grossly mislead as to the causes of heart disease. Ansel Keys, who in the 1950s published a “definitive” study showing a correlation between diets high in fat and cardio-vascular disease worldwide, has been continually disproven and is now aknowledged to have used questionable evidence and statistical methods (at best) to support his findings. Despite this fallacy, the “low fat myth” persists.

In actuality, heart disease stems from inflammation in the body (as does all other disease). Inflammation can be caused by poor quality foods (overabundance of omega-6 oils , trans-fats, sugar, GMOs, etc.), food allergies, exposure to toxins, poor digestion/ leaky gut, drugs (perscription or otherwise, including alcohol, nicotine and caffeine) and, perhaps most widespread, stress. Inflammation is a natural and important reaction in the body, but is intended to be an acute reaction when we hurt ourselves or are fighting off a viris. Systemic inflammation or chronic inflammation from repetative lifestyle choices that encourage inflammatory reactions are what cause many of the so-called “chronic” diseases of our day, from heart disease to diabetes to cancer.

When the body is inflammed, including the arteries in the heart, the body responds by sending out “bandaids,” in the form of cholesterol, to the infected area. The heart gets a heavy dose since it is absolutely vital to human survival. In a healthy body, cholesterol is an extremely important and healthful substance. The body essentially coats inflammed areas with a layer of waxy cholesterol to allow it to heal and, in the case of an acute inflammatory response, this is just what we need. The tissue heals and the cholesterol is recyled and all is well. Of course, when we don’t treat the cause of the inflammation, the same tissue simply becomes inflamed over and over again and layer after layer of cholesterol is futily deposited in an attempt to heal the area. Continue reading

Cooking with Unrefined Oils

I’ve completed my first round of homework for school! This consisted of keeping a diet and activity log for a week (sooooo painfully tedious) but also creating a handout related to any nutrition related topic we chose. We’ll make these handouts as a part of each module’s homeowrk assignment, with the idea of having a variety of handouts already prepared to hand out to clients at any given time. I chose to focus this first handout on unrefined oils. As I touched on in my recent post, I never realized how highly processed and poor for one’s health refined oils are. As I began to research unrefined oils, I was surprised by the true health benefits many of them provide—it’s not something you generally think of with oil. I was also pleasantly surprised by the variety of unrefined oils that are available. I’m excited to experiment with using avocado oil, red plam fruit oil and nut oils in my cooking. 

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I have made O’s chcolate-chip cookies with a mixture of coconut and macadamia nut oil with steller results. Buh-bye refined sunflower oil! So long!

Below is the information included on my handout. If you’d like to print a copy to keep in your kitchen, click here to download the PDF. Continue reading

Symbiotic Health (+ Power Brownies)

Yesterday, in class, our teacher introduced a section of the lecture covering several different popular diets and food philosophies by saying, in essence, people can get very stuck in their beliefs around food. That the heart of healthy sustainable eating is to tune into our own bodies, what they need and what they, individually, feel best eating. So simple, but profound too. A similar sentiment is echoed by the author of one of my favorite food blogs:

A lot of people want to know “what I am” – vegetarian, vegan, raw foodist, fruitarian, macrobiotic…guess what? I am a person who eats! 

My food philosophy is this: I hate labels. They stink. They force a person to define themselves in very rigid terms, beat themselves up if they suddenly eat something that doesn’t fit that definition, and I know I never want to have to label what “kind” of diet I subscribe to. Being dogmatic about anything, for me, just doesn’t work. Being flexible does. 

I like this idea. And, in reality, I don’t know a single person who subscribes to any specific way of eating 100% of the time. I often identify myself as a vegan, but that doesn’t stop me from having a slice of birthday cake, on occasion, or even a little fish from time to time. And yet, by using this term, which is defined objectively, I expose myself to feeling of guilt or inadequacy when I do diverge from the party line… and somehow I know that’s not part of achieving an optimal, healthy relationship with food and nutrition.

In class, we dismissed one diet after another on the basis of not accounting for bio-individuality. By nature, any diet or food philosophy simple enough to write a book on is going to be pretty basic and is formulated to be applied universally. While it is probably inarguable that everyone these days needs to eat more whole, unprocessed foods and especially vegetables, just about anything else in diet is up for grabs. Some people need far more protein that others, some people have trouble digesting grains, others have problems with dairy or soy. Some people thrive on higher fat diets than others, or higher in raw foods or greater concentration of certain vitamins or minerals. It’s mind boggling the set of conditions that influence each of us: our ancestry, lifestyle, routine, metabolism, food we grew up with, food we like or dislike, and so on. There is no one answer and no one prescription that will lead us to health, happiness and nourishment. Continue reading

Reinvention

Tomorrow I start school again. Astoundingly, it’s been nearly five years (!) since I last sat in a classroom, listened to a lecture or did homework. I’m equipped with a stack of slightly intimidating textbooks, a brand-new notebook and a handful of my favorite pens and feel just a touch of those first-day butterflies that have been hanging around since grade school. It’s all so familiar and yet, what I am about to begin is in fact very different that any of my education up to this point.

In the morning, I’ll be beginning Bauman College’s 18-month Nutritional Consultant program. At the end of it I will be a certified Nutritional Consultant and will be able to take the Holistic Nutrition Boards in Colorado. Unlike dietetics, which maintains a very strictly regulated USDA-compliant curriculum, these certifications will allow me to offer unique, personalized nutritional advice to individuals, based on their own personal histories, health goals and dietary philosophies. I plan on combining this knowledge with my already well-developed skills in the kitchen to guide clients through the whole process of changing their diet: from meal planning to shopping for, storing, preparing and preserving their new dietary staples.

I am so excited to be learning something so relevant and applicable that also happens to be something I’m naturally passionate about. Throughout my college education, I’ve always felt something of a disconnect between these two desires. I studied anthropology and classics, both of which I found to be fascinating, but I knew that neither would exactly set me up for a career outside of academia. After realizing I was more attracted to an academic career for the argyle than its actuality, I’ve toyed with the idea of attending culinary school to further develop my love of cooking. But, with some careful reflection, I realized that life behind a stove all day, every day would likely destroy that love rather than bolster it. I felt at a loss for how to proceed for several years, until I stumbled upon an ad for the Natural Culinary Institute in NYC in a magazine. I was blown away that such a program existed, focusing on both health and cooking. I researched the school further and even dropped in for a visit, but ultimately realized that it wasn’t a great fit for me – they seemed mostly to turn out students as personal and professional chefs, albeit enlightened ones, but it still wasn’t exactly what I wanted… I just wasn’t sure what it was that I did want.

Then, last summer, I heard about Bauman College, which conveniently had a branch in Boulder. I was initially attracted to their Natural Chef program and attended an open house to find out more. I left feeling similar to how I had after the visit to the New York school – like it was close to what I wanted but not quite there. Along with hearing about the chef program, several students spoke about the school’s nutrition program. They were knowledgeable and engaged, but at that point studying nutrition hadn’t crossed my mind. I mulled it all over for several more months, but Bauman kept popping back up in my mind. It was in Boulder, not too expensive and philosophically totally on the same page as me… why wasn’t it what I wanted? I did a little more research into the school and decided to look into their Nutrition Consultant program—why not? It was amazing. Something just clicked for me. I already knew and loved cooking, I was committed to healthy eating and I wanted a career that would allow me to share this with others, not keep me in a kitchen, separated from those with which I was sharing. This made total sense. I met with an advisor and sat in on a class and the more I learned about the program the more excited I became. The approach was very comprehensive—something I demand from my education. I don’t care if broccoli is “good for you” if you can’t explain to me exactly why that is. This program effectively combines in-depth physiology and biochemistry with their broader holistic curriculum to ensure students really grasp how food, medicine and supplements act on the body. The whole thing was just totally “me”!

I know that this program has the ability to be truly transformative —in a way that none of my other education experiences have been. My biggest goals are too maintain my inspiration and focus throughout the program. I know it will be hard to have homework again, but I really want to continually remember why I am doing it—not for the teacher, but to build my own knowledge and confidence with the subject matter. I also want to reach out and network as much as possible with the instructors, other students and anyone else in the field that crosses my path. Putting myself out there can be difficult for me, but I am committed to working on it. Also, I am going to strive to maintain balance in my life. I will still be working full–time at my job, so I will be busy, for sure. But I am also committed to making sure I find time to rest, relax and have fun.

Wish me luck as I embark on this new adventure!