Making Peace With Missing Out

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I think one of the most common struggles when it comes to taking care of our health and well-being is the feeling that there is not enough time in the day. It’s so true that we all have the same 24 hours. How is it that we are are supposed to do our work, spend time with our family and friends, take care of household chores, exercise, eat right, get enough sleep, manage our stress, AND find time to do things that fuel our souls and make us feel alive and inspired. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and like we’re being charged with an impossible task!

We want to be good parents, good children, good employees, good friends, good people. We want to make sure we are meeting everyone’s needs. We want to say yes when people ask us to do things.  How do we do it all and still meet our own needs? Have you ever noticed that taking care of ourselves is often the first thing that falls to the wayside when we are stressed and busy?

Here is the thing. There will always be more. There will always be more things vying for your attention, wanting your help, asking for your time, your money, your energy. It’s a big world out there!  As incredible as it would be to be an inexhaustible resource to every person, every cause, every job opportunity it’s just not possible. We need time to rest, recharge, replenish, reflect. It’s critical. The other choice is to become run down, exhausted, broke, stressed, burnt out.

If you are looking for another way here is what I would suggest.

Make peace with missing out.

Here’s how. Take some time to sit down and think about what things in your life that are really important to you. Don’t make that list too long – maybe just 3 or 4 things. Write them down. Read them every day. Think about them. Talk to people you love about them. Then ask yourself every time you are faced with an opportunity or asked to do something, “how does this serve my list?” Get really really clear on how your decisions are serving your top priorities in life.

In a recent blog post I wrote that we make about 35,000 choices every day. Imagine what our lives would feel like if the majority of those decisions moved us in a direction closer to being in alignment with those 3 or 4 things that are most important to us.

When I was a newish mom I used to subscribe to an email list that would send me a weekly email with all of the events going on around town for kids. I wanted to make sure that I was being a super mom so I’d write everything down on our calendar and try to take the kids to as many as possible. I’d feel a little stressed if we were running late or if the kids were dragging their feet to get somewhere. If we missed an event that I had on the calendar I’d feel downright disappointed and frustrated. Like I failed that day.

Right at the top of my list of things that are important to me is Family – so I did some thinking about what that really means for me. For me that means connection, that means time together, that means laughter and mealtime conversations. It does not mean me using my scary mom voice to force all of us to get into the car and rush to some event around town that the kids really don’t care about anyway.

I’ve unsubscribed to that email list. I know where the website is when I need it. These days I’m getting better at making peace with missing out.

So how exactly do you say no?

When I was younger I was a serial people pleaser. I thought that was the best way to get people to like me. I thought saying yes to everything that came my way was the best way of saying yes to the universe. I tried to be open to every opportunity, every exciting new thing, every request for my time and energy. Being open is good right? So why was I feeling so frazzled and overwhelmed?

Then one weekend I was at a weekend-long meditation retreat. The teacher was an older woman. She was so peaceful and calm. Something about just being close to her made you feel more relaxed. One meditation was particularly emotional for me. Afterwards she came and sat next to me. She asked me what was going on and I told her I just felt totally stretched thin and like I was letting people down around me because I couldn’t do it all and do it well. She just rested her hand on my back and said, “You know Brooke, it’s okay to say no to people.”

I don’t think anyone up to that point had ever really told me that.

I want to share a little trick with you that I recently heard on a podcast that for me as a recovering people pleaser has been great. It’s these six little words.

“Let me get back to you.”

When you are face to face with someone who is asking you to do something it can be really hard to say no.  In that moment you might not know if it resonates with your most important things or not. You may need some time to process the request. When that happens you just use these six magic words! They give you time to think about it without closing the door but also without committing. They buy you time to figure it out and make a thoughtful decision. Ultimately if it’s not the right fit for you, it might not feel like it but you will be doing everyone a favor by saying no.

I still sometimes struggle with saying no to people, but I do it a lot more frequently these days because even though I worried for a long time that by saying no I would be restricting my life and missing out on things what I’ve found has been just the opposite. Instead I’ve opened up space and time and resources for the things that really matter to me most. I have more quality time with my family. I find I have more time for taking care of my health and well-being.   If anything my life feels more expansive.

I’d love to hear if there have been times in your life when you’ve been really happy you’ve said no to something. Are there times you wish you would have said yes?

Be happy, be healthy, be well!

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5 Free Apps For Better Health And Wellness That I Love

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Maybe you’ve heard that sitting is the new smoking? I have had a little bit of a love/hate relationship with technology over the years. For a long time I resisted it as much as possible. I was the last one in my office to get on Facebook back in the day.  It’s hard to ignore the fact that as a society technology has played a major role in moving us indoors more and making us more sedentary – contributing significantly to the obesity epidemic and all kinds of other health problems our nation is now facing.

But as with most things in life the issue of our society becoming technologically driven is not clear cut good or evil. There are of course many great things that technology provides us with. I get pretty excited when it contributes to helping us live healthier, happier lives. I keep an ongoing list of health and wellness apps that I use myself or have been recommended to me by clients. Here are 5 of my favorites that are free:

  1. 1 Giant Mind – If you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and like you don’t have enough time a daily meditation practice can help. Here’s the thing though, you can’t use meditation like a band-aid. It would probably help a little  to sit down just on those days that you are feeling particularly under the gun and meditate but much more effective is a daily practice. 1 Giant Mind makes it very accessible, it walks you through the basics of meditation and runs a 30 day challenge  where you unlock more great teaching along the way. I can’t recommend this app highly enough. I honestly can’t believe it’s free.
  2. Fooducate – Fooducate is touted as an app that helps you with weight loss, but that’s not why I like it (you know me, I like to focus on your health not your weight). You can certainly use it to track calories if that’s your gig, but what I like to use it for is as a way to learn about products and get ideas for healthier alternatives. The Food Finder feature allows you to scan barcodes on any products you are considering and then it will give it a “grade” and more information about it. But what I especially love is that it will provide you with alternative ideas for healthier items. Other fooducate users can post about ways that they have used that food. Fooducate does a great job of making you feel like part of a community of people who want to eat healthier. There are paid features to this app, but you can do a lot with it for free. It’s definitely worth checking out.
  3. Runtastic – If you are ready to get moving and are looking for an app that will track your workouts Runtastic Pro is a great option. I used this fitness tracker for years and found it to be really user friendly and accurate. It used to be that this tracker was just for running and walking, but now you can track all kinds of activities from rock climbing to cross-country skiing to wakeboarding. Seriously if you can think of it they can probably track it. One part I love about Runtastic is that they will give you a map of a course you’ve been on with the mileage and time, making it easy to challenge yourself to work on improving your time. Again their are some fun paid features (i.e. you can pay for stories while you are running), but the free version is pretty powerful and all you need to get started.
  4. Water Time – Drinking more water is a goal that a lot of women I work with have and it’s a good one! Drinking plenty of water flushes out toxins, it transports nutrients to your cells and helps your body to work more efficiently. But sometimes it’s hard to remember to stop and take the time to do it! There are lots of water apps out there but I found this one to be simple and easy to set up. It gives you reminders throughout the day to stop and drink (you just have to remember to have your water bottle with you!). With the free version there are some ads, but if they bother you an upgrade to the ad-free version is just $0.99.
  5. Lotus Bud – This sweet app is surprisingly simple and often exactly what I need. Throughout the day at random times the lotus bud app will “ring” a meditation bell reminding you to take a deep breath and be mindful of the present moment. It’s funny because my kids love it too. If they hear the bell go off they stop whatever they are doing and say, “time for a deep breath Mom!” A great app for all of us!

I’ve come around to embracing technology, especially when it can help us with our health and happiness. I’d love to hear what apps you use and would recommend. Leave me a comment below if you have one that you love.

Be happy, be healthy, be well!

 

Searching For Your Inner Gold Star

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I was out for a morning run on a glorious trail that follows the coastline and then turns and heads into the woods past giant evergreens and Big Leaf Maples and it felt great! There were a lot of things that had to happen for me to be able to go running at this time of day in this incredible place- sometimes it felt as if I was trying to single-handedly make the stars align just to have an hour to myself (kids fed, dressed and off to school, clean running clothes on hand, letting go of the guilt that I “should” be grocery shopping or doing laundry instead). But today everything had turned out perfectly and I had one beautiful hour to myself to just run.

I breathed in deeply. There was that pungent fall smell of composting leaves. There was just a hint of that wonderfully invigorating chill in the air. People I passed along the trail seemed happy and beautiful and vibrant. Colors seemed brighter.  I felt light and fast and like I could run forever. I was coming up on mile three and my familiar friend the runner’s high had just joined me.

I was about halfway into my run when it happened. I gave my Fitbit a happy little tap to see how many thousands of steps I certainly had already accumulated but the screen stayed dark…I tapped again (surly I just wasn’t tapping hard enough). Nothing. Nooooooooooooooooooo! My Fitbit was dead – and I knew it was really dead because it had been acting a little wonky the whole week and I had left it in the charger all night the night before just to make sure it was charged for this run.

I stopped running. How could this be? Everything that went into making it possible to even be able to go for a run and I wasn’t getting “credit” for it!

Now I know to some of you it seems crazy to stop in the middle of a perfect run and give into internal wailing on a beautiful day just because my tracker had stopped working. But I also know there are some of you out there who have tracked steps or miles or earned credit towards a goal and can commiserate with the feeling of wanting to earn those gold stars!

When I was studying to become a coach we talked a lot about intrinsic (or internal) vs. extrinsic (or external) motivation. How when people are intrinsically motivated to create healthy habits it is much more effective and lasts longer than if the motivation is purely to earn some kind of reward. I had learned this and of course theoretically agreed, but since finishing school had not until this moment so personally experienced how that really felt.

After a minute I realized how ridiculous it was that I had stopped running and started laughing. To anyone passing by I probably would have looked like a lunatic stopped in the middle of the trail laughing by myself (luckily there was no one around at that moment).

As always life and personal experience are the best teachers. I took a minute to reset. Why was I out here anyway? Not to earn a gold star or another light on my step tracker! I was out here because it felt damn good to be using my body. Because I crave that runners high. Because the light coming through the trees was gorgeous and uplifting and good for my soul. Because I don’t want to just be around when my grandchildren are born, I want to be healthy and strong enough to play with them.

The rest of the run was great – made even better by the fact that my Fitbit had died and caused me to take a few minutes to reset my mind and heart and remember why it is that I was really out here in the first place.

So did I throw my Fitbit out when I got home? Well yes, but I also immediately ordered a new one. Because the truth is although I wish I was constantly tapped into my intrinsic motivation to move, tracking my steps helps me stay conscious of how much I am moving. There are certainly days I will walk or run a little further to just reach the goals I’ve set up for myself without thinking too much about the bigger why. There is nothing wrong with that! As long as there is a bigger why and I know what it is so I can remember it when I need to.

What’s your bigger why? What is it that inspires you to get moving on those days when you might not exactly feel like it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Be happy, be healthy, be well!

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What is Unattachment and Why Is it Important for our Health and Well-being?

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“Don’t hold on to someone who’s leaving, otherwise you won’t meet the one who’s coming”-Carl Jung

When we were young my husband and I fell deeply, madly, passionately in love with each other and simultaneously with a beautiful twenty acre piece of land nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. It was (and is) a magical place with a creek and open pasture, edged by huge big leaf maples and towering cedar trees. The views of the surrounding mountains were incredible. It felt wild and expansive and we rose to the challenge of filling every inch of it with beautiful dreams of a home and gardens and a family. We were visionaries of the most incredible life and this was the place we were going to sink our roots in and live our whole lives long.

The property wasn’t quite legally subdivided and so couldn’t officially be sold yet, but we were confident that things would be taken care of. The owner was open to us using it until all of the permitting was completed. We happily got to work planting trees, putting in a garden, building a tree house and garden shed. After a year or so things were still not finalized, but seemed to be moving in the right direction. We built an arbor and on a sunny August day got married there and celebrated with the entire community.

We waited five years for permits to be filed and subdivisions to be completed. We waited five years before the whole thing crumbled. The owners went through a bad divorce, there was a family misunderstanding…we never really understood fully what happened (isn’t that sometimes the way with things that break our hearts). We were told the land was no longer for sale and wouldn’t be.

We were lost. I mean to say we were completely wrecked. Done for. Brokenhearted. Shocked. Angry. Confused. We practiced the opposite of unattachment. We were so angry! And we held onto our anger and simmered in it and with no productive way forward we stumbled through life for awhile. As a couple we suffered and our marriage suffered too.  We felt victimized. Someone had taken all of our dreams and crushed them. Someone had broken years of promises with no apologies and no alternatives. Who were we even now? What were our dreams?

Slowly we found our way through. Slowly we built new dreams and a beautiful life that we never could have imagined at the time – but not before a lot of lost time and more heartache than was necessary.

When you spend an extended amount of time in a negative state (such as holding onto anger) there are very real physical repercussions. It is it’s own kind of chronic stress. Under stress your body releases the hormones adrenaline and cortisol which in small doses can be helpful in certain situations, but when they course through our system on a regular basis they can have a very real negative effect on our hearts and brains. Research has shown that chronic stress can cause you to actually become hardwired to react to new situations in a negative way and can inhibit growth of brain cells that make connections to the prefrontal cortex-the part of our brain responsible for learning new things and creating memories.

My husband and I were talking about it the other day and he asked me what I would do differently now. At that point in our lives we did the best we could with the experiences and tools that we had. But if I could go back now and talk to myself I would tell myself to cultivate gratitude. To focus more on the good things that happened there and less on the the things that were “taken from us”. I would work on reframing the situation to realize that we weren’t victims, that we chose to hold on for as long as we did. I would journal and meditate and breathe and look ahead to new adventures and I would try to let go more gracefully. Those feelings of anger and bitterness didn’t serve me and they didn’t change the outcome of the situation at all.

So I’m writing to you today about the power of unattachment because I wish it was something that I had known about and cultivated back then. That piece of property was never ours. Despite paperwork sometimes saying otherwise we don’t ever truly own a place. Another person no matter how much we love them does not belong to us. And as much as you might want something and work towards a dream you can never be absolutely certain of the outcome.

Please don’t take this post the wrong way. Dreaming big is not a bad thing! Loving deeply is the only way! Taking time to mourn something you’ve loved and lost is a necessary part of moving on. Do those things with your life! And then when it’s time to move on from a dream or a person or an expectation take a deep breath and let go.

Practicing unattachment can help on any scale – from letting go of someone who has broken our heart to letting go of our expectations that we won’t get stuck in traffic or that another person is going to feel the same way about something that we do. When we are able to set aside our expectations we are able to find peace. When we practice unattachment we are able to meet the challenges this sometimes tumultuous life puts forward gracefully and calmly.

Unattachment does not mean you need to live in a cave somewhere in the Olympic rain forest with only a hand-carved wooden bowl and spoon as possessions. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t love deeply and passionately and madly. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong to feel that little surge of giddiness when you put on that new pair of jeans that fit you just perfectly. It simply means being able to let go gracefully when it’s time to so that you can move forward towards the rest of your life with an open heart and no regrets.

Be happy, be health, be well.

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Hygge for Health and Happiness!

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I am fascinated by wellness practices around the world and how environments help shape what we do to take care of our physical and mental well-being. Things like shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) in Japan, the culture of sauna in Finland, siestas of Latin America…but one practice I just recently learned of is the practice of Hygge (pronounced Hoo-ga) in Denmark.

Did you know that Denmark rates #1 on the list of happiest places in the world? Why is that when their winter days are extremely cold and short? How do they keep their happy disposition despite what some might think of as a challenging environment? I live in the Pacific Northwest where it is undeniably beautiful but winters are dark and rainy and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a very real thing for a lot of people. I was hoping the Danes might have a trick or two to help us through the darkest part of our year.

Denmark is doing a lot of very cool things that probably contribute to it being the happiest country on earth. Things like the fact that 50% of commuters in the largest city of Copenhagen commute by bike. There is extensive parental support when it comes to paid leave after having a child. They have universal health care. They provide free (or very low cost) high quality early childhood education and consequently many more women return to the workforce post-baby.  Gender equality is rated as very high.

In one interview a Danish woman said she believed that they were such a happy people because they felt safe. They don’t have to stress out about whether or not to have children because they know they will have lots of support. They don’t have to worry about the cost of health issues if someone gets sick. They have a strong sense of community and social support.

There is one other thing they do that I think we should embrace here in the Great Northwest -the practice of Hygge. Hygge doesn’t translate perfectly into English but it means something like “the feeling of coziness” They make a point – especially in the winter – of making their surroundings inviting, comfortable and festive. The winter season is dominated by festivals and gathering of family and friends.

5 Easy Ways to Practice Hygge at Home

  • Light candles – The Danes love candles! You can bring a little Hygge into your home by lighting candles on your mantle or at the table.
  • Snuggle under blankets with a hot drink and a good book – Even better if someone else is snuggling under that blanket with you!
  • Warm foot bath- If you aren’t sure you want to go to the trouble of a full blown bubble bath (although I’d say that would be very Hygge) try a decadent foot soak with epsom salt and a few drops of your favorite essential oil.
  • Enjoy a treat- One component of Hygge is enjoying delicious holiday treats in a mindful way without feeling guilty about it afterwards – just making a point to thoroughly enjoy and appreciate them.
  • Turn on some relaxing music during dinner time. Make the mealtime environment warm and inviting.

Really what I think Hygge boils down to is taking care of ourselves and appreciating the important things in our lives – our family and friends, our warm cozy homes, good food. It’s understanding that our bodies need a change of pace as the seasons change and embracing it rather than fighting it. We could all use a little more Hygge in our lives. Hygge for health and happiness!

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

 

 

Practicing Radical Self Care During Tumultuous Times

“We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” – Carlos Casteneda

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I don’t know about you but I’ve had a bit of a bumpy week. Normally I am that admittedly somewhat annoying person who loves getting up in the morning. I have crafted the most beautiful morning routine that I love so much that I feel a little bit of Christmas morning giddiness every morning (I know, I know, normally I try not to talk about it too much so people don’t throw up). I run through my routine and finish by sitting down to write and I really don’t worry too much about if I’ll feel inspired to do it or not because I inevitably do.

But this week has been hard! I have been struggling with everything going on in the world and not sleeping well. I have been staying up too late searching for some kind of answers and spending far too much time on social media reading articles of speculation and distress. I have had a hard time getting up in the morning and have found ways to justify staying in bed later and later. As so easily can happen when our mind, body and spirit need it the most I have been letting my self care routine slip.

Sometimes just going through the motions you can trick yourself back into an inspired state. As I laid in bed this morning I said to myself “Enough! Just get up and put the tea kettle on.” So I did and that started off a series of well worn morning practices that ultimately led me to you with a huge sense of the comfort of coming home.

I’d like to advocate for intentionally creating a morning routine just for this reason. Sometimes when you are feeling emotionally drained you need a self care plan in place that you can run on autopilot. Whatever it is that you need to do to feel cared for, rejuvenated or inspired make sure you do it regularly during the good times so that you know how to fall back on it in the hard times. Trying to create healthy habits when you are not feeling great – physically or mentally – is exponentially harder.

Although I have been letting my morning routine slip there are two things that I have made more time for this week that have been a huge help in processing these big emotions I’ve been having. One is spending time with good friends – talking about everything going on, and also remembering to take time to talk about other things going on in our lives!

The other is making time to get outside – I call it our mountain therapy. This weekend it felt like we needed a good dose so we packed up the family and headed up into the Cascades to spend a couple of days with a good friend who lives there. There have been all kinds of studies done on the benefit of spending time in nature, more on that in a future blog post, but I can say from personal experience that breathing that pine soaked air and exploring the trails with the kiddos was just what this aching heart needed this weekend.

Please be sure to take care of yourself in times of tumult. The world needs you healthy and well now more than ever.

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

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Mindful Eating 101

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I was first introduced to the idea of mindful eating about 10 years ago. A friend of mine had just returned from a week long yoga retreat where they had been taught and practiced mindful eating at every meal. She raved about the way she was able to slow down, how much faster she felt full and how eating had become a transforming experience.  It sounded totally awesome – and like something you just did when attending a week long yoga retreat. But as it turns out mindful eating is something that when practiced as part of our daily lives can have a huge impact on our health.

So what exactly is mindful eating?

Let’s start with the opposite of mindful eating. Have you ever caught yourself watching a movie and munching away on chips when you reach for another and realize all of the sudden that you’ve eaten the entire bag? Or, maybe after a long day at work you come home tired, get the kids fed and down for bed and then dive into a bowl of ice cream, because you’ve had a long day and you feel like you’ve earned it?  Have you ever bolted your lunch in the car while driving between meetings or bought the same food every time you go to the grocery store even though you know it’s not the best for you but because it is what you always get and is familiar? I have to admit to having done all of these things at one time or another.

Unless you are a mindfulness master (I’m a mindful master, I can mindful faster…okay, okay, sorry!) these are examples of very real scenarios that many of us go through. Mindful eating is about raising our level of consciousness when it comes to the way we think about food.  It is important not only to pick healthy whole foods that will sustain and nourish us, but also to adjust our mindset when it comes to the act of eating. It is about the gratitude that we express for our food and recognizing what it took for it to reach our plate. It’s about slowing down and really appreciating what the food is doing for our bodies and tuning in to how it makes us feel. It’s about becoming more aware of ourselves to understand whether or not we’re even hungry in that moment. It’s about taking the time to look at our patterns and habits and critically asking ourselves if they are serving us.

What are 3 simple ways we can start practicing mindful eating in our daily lives?

  • Think of the end at the beginning – before you put something in your shopping cart or your mouth take a minute to pause and think about how you are going to feel after you eat that food or have that second helping. Is this a food that you are going to feel guilty about after you are done, or one that will make you feel more energized and vibrant and maybe proud that you are making a healthy choice? Fill your cart up with the latter and there won’t be room in your fridge or life for the former.
  • Express gratitude at every meal – You don’t have to belong to any kind of formal religion to take a moment before each meal to express gratitude out loud for the food you are about to eat. Somewhere someone grew the food you are about to eat. Without the sun, the rain, the soil, the farmers, you and the food would not be here. Meal times are a great break in our day when we can take a moment to remember that and be grateful for it. It can be as simple as just saying out loud, “I’m grateful for this food.”
  • Slow down-Do you remember when we were kids an our well-meaning parents or grandparents told us to chew our food at least 32 times.  I remember mechanically chewing my food and counting and swallowing kind of like it was a game. That is not what I’m talking about here. Next time you are eating try this. Pay attention to when you are chewing and swallowing and don’t scoop up the next bite with your fork or spoon until you’ve completely swallowed the last one. It sounds simple right? But if you are like most people it’s easy to put food in your mouth bite after bite without really even realizing if you’ve finished the last bite.

What are a few positive impacts mindful eating can have?

If you are new to the idea of mindful eating it may sound a little unconventional but while I’m not going to make any guarantees that you will lose 30 pounds in the next 30 days, there are real physical positive impacts that mindful eating can have on your health.

Did you know that studies have shown if you take two people – lets say a person who is regularly taking the time to slow down and practice mindful eating and another person who leads a highly stressful rushed lifestyle – and feed them the same foods their bodies are going to process them in totally different ways. When we’re chronically stressed out our body is in constant fight or flight mode causing our hormones to think we need to hang onto every bit of extra energy that we can (you never know when the next famine might hit and we’ll need it right?). So even if a person is making an effort to really eat healthy whole foods, but at the same time are under a lot of chronic stress they can find themselves gaining weight and becoming frustrated because they don’t know why.

Don’t wait until you sign up for that week-long yoga retreat. You can start practicing mindful eating now. It’s something you can do every day that doesn’t have to take too much extra time, but that can have huge positive impacts on your health and wellness. Happy mindful eating!

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

If this article is something that resonates with you stay tuned for my upcoming 10 Days of Mindful Eating Challenge. Sign up for my newsletter for updates on the next course being offered.

Healthy eating starts with creating a solid plan. Find my FREE meal planning guide here to help you get started.

It Starts With Food.

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Here is one thing I know. You simply cannot live your healthiest life without getting what you eat dialed in. You might love running or working out or meditating and journaling every day but if you aren’t putting the best fuel in your body possible you are doing yourself a disservice. I learned this first-hand after developing gestational diabetes with my second pregnancy. I lived with the mentality for years that I could eat whatever I wanted as long as I was active enough. This way of thinking came back to seriously bite me in the butt. In the long run it also was a blessing because it ultimately led me back to school to study nutrition but if I could have know all this before and avoided diabetes I would definitely have taken that route.

Food and nutrition are a personal passion of mine but up to this point I’ve kind of avoided writing too much about it in my blog posts. Why, when it’s something I care about so deeply? Well because food is so darn personal and whether or not you even realize it most people have very strong feelings about food going way back to the kinds of things they ate growing up, to being scared that they are going to be told they should never have their favorite comfort food again, to feeling absolutely positive that certain foods should never be eaten by anyone ever, or thinking that changing the way they eat is too inconvenient or hard to the point of being borderline impossible.

People sometimes also discover and can identify with a way of eating so passionately that it is almost a like choosing a religion (I hope that’s not a sacrilegious analogy!). But what I mean is it’s like you find something and it works for you and there is another great big tribe of people out there that agrees and you start to feel like it is “the way”. And it’s possible that’s not a bad thing! – you’ve found something that makes you feel great and resonates with the way you want to live. You “become” Paleo or Vegan or Vegetarian or Gluten-free or whatever it is and if it’s working for you (and your doctor agrees) and you remember that a different way might work better for other people I say that’s great!

But just in case you have not found that perfect food lifestyle that is working for you and would like a little guidance I want to share with you some of what I’ve learned through my studies over the past few years. It’s a place to start and it’s backed up by science and just like many religions share some overarching principals many nutrition scholars would agree that these are the foundation of a healthy diet:

  • Cut out the processed food – This is the number one thing on my list, if you do nothing else that I suggest do this. Become a label reader. If you don’t know what an ingredient is there is a very big chance you don’t need it in your life. A great rule of thumb when looking at labels is to look for items with less than 5 ingredients and all things that you recognize. Here is a great list of ways to cut out processed food by one of my favorite real food bloggers.
  • Steer Clear of Added Sugar – This another biggie. Sugar is pervasive. You may have heard the increase in sugar consumption in the American diet has been tied in studies to the increase in the obesity epidemic (and many other health issues) that our country now faces. When I first started learning about this stuff I was shocked by how many things sugar is in that you wouldn’t expect – I mean stewed tomatoes! Really?! Consumers are getting smarter about this but so are marketers. Did you know there are over 50 different names for sugar? They are just different names for something your body doesn’t need. The American Heart Association recommends women consume no more than 25 grams of sugar/day (or 6 tsp). It adds up quickly! To put that in perspective a Starbucks mocha contains 35 grams of sugar putting you over your daily recommended value right there.
  • Add in More Fruits and Veggies – I love this because instead of being about things you shouldn’t eat it’s all about things you should eat and fruits and vegetables are beautiful and delicious and just so good for you! Crowd out those foods that aren’t serving you with more fruit and vegetables. Try planning your meals around whatever fresh fruits and vegetables you have available. Most people do not eat the recommended daily amount of fruits and veggies. Here is a great visual to give you an idea of just how much you should be aiming for each day.
  • Include Healthy Fats-Fat has gotten a bad rap over the years but the latest nutrition studies are showing that healthy fats actually play a really important role in contributing to good health. This is such a great shift in the way people are thinking about food not only because it leads to better health but because there are so many healthy fats that are really delicious! Avocados, olives, nuts and seeds, coconut, dark chocolate, whole eggs, full-fat yogurt are all great sources of healthy fats. Yum!
  • Stick to Complex Carbs-In a nut shell ditch your refined and simple carbs (white flour, white rice, sugar) and replace them with complex carbs.  Carbs have also been demonized over the years and here is part of what I think about it. The gluten-free movement has exploded and for people with a true gluten allergy or intolerance that may be a great thing. For most people though when they cut out gluten they start feeling better because along with the gluten they are cutting out simple carbs (refined flour and sugar) that are often found in the same foods. Complex carbs on the other hand – and there are so many great ones – are an important fuel for our bodies and should make up about 50% of our diet!
  • Eat Lean Protein (Mostly Plant-Based) – Last year the World Health Organization published it’s findings that processed meat is carcinogenic and that red meat is most probably carcinogenic. It was a pretty big deal. People often ask me what big changes I’ve made to my diet over the past couple of years of really diving into this stuff. This has been the most challenging change for me. Growing up steak was my favorite dinner. Still occasionally if my parents are BBQing steak or if a friend gives us some great elk burger I will still partake but now we almost never purchase red meat – we stick to getting our protein mainly from plants, fish, and poultry.
  • Bonus! Amp Up Your Superfood Intake – Although it sounds kind of trendy and maybe a bit mystical the term superfoods is just a word for foods that are rich in nutrients. They are often high in antioxidants and micronutrients. There is no definitive list of superfoods out there – it seems a new superfood is always being “discovered” but here is a list of common ones that are easy to incorporate more of in your meals.

Does that seem like a lot? Hopefully it’s not too overwhelming! I know this was a longer post than usual but it’s a really big important topic that we’ll be visiting together often. Really most of it can be boiled down to one of my all time favorite quotes by one of my all time favorite authors.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. -Michael Pollan

In school they liked to use the analogy of our bodies being like cars. We wouldn’t put anything in a car other than the right kind of fuel because it wouldn’t run well and eventually it would break down completely. While I appreciate the straightforwardness of this analogy I don’t particularly love it – mostly because I think it lacks poetic intrigue. The way I like to look at it is:

Feeding ourselves nourishing healthy whole foods is a form of gratitude and self-respect.

On a final note I just want to say it’s not about being perfect. It’s not about never having another piece of chocolate cake in your life (oh! just writing that down makes me sad). I truly am not one to judge someone for eating a burger. Honestly despite considering myself fairly healthy I did not give most of this a second thought just a few years ago but I wish I’d had a friend or coach or someone spell it out clearly for me back then.  Hopefully, if is something you want to learn more about, I can help be that person for you.

Be happy, be healthy, be well!

P.S. Eating well starts with a good plan – sign up here to download my free Menu Planning Tips and Tricks and Menu Planner.

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