Archive for Tips and Tricks

Solstice is Coming. Be the Khaleesi of Salad.

This is the Western part of the greens coming in.

I know this is not Westeros, and in fact it’s just Western Mass, but I have just wrapped up this season of Game of Thrones where Tyrion Lannister solidly WON Father’s Day. In the land in which I am Khaleesi, the dog wanders the yard and has finally figured out which greens not to pee on. The salad greens. In the mornings I meander about in an oversized SF Giants T with leggings, toting a colander about the plot. I gather green leaf lettuce, arugula, mizuna, some baby mustard, striated oregano, basil, spinach, lemon mint, red butter lettuce and some other tufts that “salad mix” envelope of seeds spit up. Radishes are coming along as well. So far the big money items haven’t formed yet so I augment with the farmer’s markets and at the store. Here’s a pretty good list of some things I check out and you, too can pick up for a good, colorful, nutrient rich time:

Summer squash, pluot, radish, spinach, tomato, purple cabbage, and cucumber in a roasted garlic vinaigrette.

Cucumbers, lemon cucumbers, fennel bulbs, carrots, cauliflower (all the colors), tomatoes, bell peppers, peaches, pluots, plums, strawberries, blueberries, jicama, celery, red onion, Chioggia beets, grapes, purple cabbage, avocado and asparagus. Any or all of these will take you out of the standard “garden salad” place of feeling like you SHOULD be eating salad into the glamorous world of Salad is Delicious. Building a salad can be super fun. Part of it is the dressing as well, which I think I’ve talked about before. OH, yes, there it is.

Last March I wrote a post with the goal of supporting each and every reader here to NEVER BUY SALAD DRESSING AGAIN. Making your own is easy, it’s cost effective, it’s free of preservatives and creepy Monsanto shit and the best reason: it tastes better. This isn’t even to mention the long term benefits adding your kitchen into your regular creative vault of delights, the ways that making your own stuff builds confidence as well as competency, AND you can use the money toward actually getting the salad. There’s some good recipes there and a great one from a reader in the comments section. So run with those. But let’s chat about building a hearty, interesting, beautiful salad.

Celery, radish, shaved fennel, purple cabbage, black & white sesame seeds tossed with lime juice, olive oil, sea salt and pepper.

1. Work with color: Green salads are phenomenal. But you can have a thousand shades of green in a salad. Each one will bring a certain depth that’s pretty to look at AND the color of your produce reflects the nutrients it contains. So the more color you serve, the deeper your nutrition, yo. So even in a green salad, go with speckled lettuces or dark greens with lights, red edges and yellow stripes. Moving out from green, go for the rainbow. More color means more nutrition, more taste, and it goes with more outfits. I like to mix in purple cabbage with my greens, add radishes and different colored peppers. Get the purple cauliflower sometimes or the red. Or those fancy heirloom carrots that are all different colors. Let yourself branch out and make the salad bowl into a riot of color.

3. Add fresh herbs: It’s so great that now we can walk into a produce section at any given market and find that lettuce has moved far beyond iceberg and romaine. (WHICH I’M NOT KNOCKING). Varietal strains come in all shades and shapes and various flavors from bright to bitter. People are getting into slicing kale super thin and adding that to a raw salad offering. Here’s what I’m begging you to do: add in herbs. You can grow an easy kitchen garden on a sill or you can get little bunches at the market. Just toss in your basil, oregano, cilantro, parsley and savory. Add in fresh chives with the blossoms and dice up some chervil and lemon mint. These greens wake up the entire experience with bright flavors and unexpected combinations that really come together.

4. Toppings, Toppings, Toppings: One of the easiest ways to take your salad to the next nutritional level is to throw seeds and nuts on it. Put a sprout on it. Any extra kaboom you can hit on will up your healthy fats, your omegas, your protein, and it’ll add a good accessorized look to the whole shebang. What works? Here are some ideas off the top of my head: crushed walnuts, almond slivers, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, any color sesame seeds and extra points for a mixing of shades, flax seeds, pine nuts, hazelnuts, pecans and any sprout that strikes your fancy. For extra points: throw seeds and nuts in a dry cast iron skillet and toast them over a low heat until the release some of the scent.

Baby spinach, toasted maple cardamon walnuts, and flame grapes roasted with olive oil, sea salt and pepper.

5. Add some protein: Me? I love a legume. Give me a harissa chickpea. A stewed chipotle pinto bean. A lemongrass hunk of tofu. Take any kind of protein you have and add it into a salad. This will turn your side dish into a whole meal. For the vegans, I vote for legumes the most. Tofu is great on occasion (it has a lot of phytoestrogens in it in addition to being pretty processed so I think it’s great sometimes, but I don’t like to advocate for it as the main source of vegan protein.) Also nutritional yeast is great as a sprinkle or also as an ingredient for your dressing. Especially a miso one. Vegetarians can add hard boiled eggs. And for the seafood lovers out there, adding fish to a salad is a favorite of so many people I know who swear by salads as entire meals. Especially in the summer, a well-built salad in a pretty bowl really does it for me.

And so, my friends, Happy Summer Solstice to you. May your pagan rites be merry. And may your salads kick some serious ass.

What if it wasn’t a problem?

That’s what I’ve been asking myself a whole bunch this past month. It’s a simple question I’ve been toting along in the spiritual back pocket of my Jordache jeans like we used to have those combs in the 80s. I can’t believe what a difference it has made for me.

Here, I’ll show you what I mean.

Me passing a reflection of myself on my way to the gym: “I can’t believe I work out this often and I still have days when I cringe at my own reflection.”
Pocket: “What if it wasn’t a problem?”
Me: “Oh. I can just be grateful that my body works. That I am loved. That I just got to move my body and feel exhilarated. Maybe how I look isn’t today’s big PROBLEM.”

Or how about this:

Me at the end of a long day of not feeling productive: “I sat at this desk for 8 hours, didn’t finish my article, left emails on my desktop, didn’t make soup, and now it’s far too blustery to go running.”
Pocket: “What if it wasn’t a problem?”
Me: “Holy crap. What if productivity wasn’t the yardstick I chose to judge myself with today. What if I coached five clients really well, I took some time to pet the dog, and I read a ton of articles that inform my life? What if I let that be enough today?”
Pocket: “What if you are enough?”
Me: “Now you’re testing me, Pocket.”
Pocket: “Let’s talk again tomorrow.”

It’s just a tiny question that can get us out of a malaise or a self-imposed despair that we are not required to carry. You can turn around in your own prison cell and just walk right the hell out. Try it. You got nothing to lose but some sorrow.

 

Coach’s Seasonal Cleanse Prep Suggestions

IMG_5253

Although I lead a cleanse every season, Spring is The Big Poppa of them all. You can join my Spring Fling ’13 here. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, Spring is the season associated with the liver, one of our most heroic organs. The liver is the filter of the body, sifting all the toxins out and shuttling them to a swift trip out of our bodies.

Like any irrigation system, things build up, and the system can tire under strain. Ours is no different. This is the absolute best time to give your liver a standing ovation, a shout out, and a heartfelt thank-you note in the form of trying a cleanse. It works 24/7 to keep us as poison free as it can, no matter what manner of horrors we ask from it.
There are a billion different cleanses out there, from whole foods cleanses to elimination cleanses, to Master Cleanses, to juice regimens. Take some time to consider which cleanse offers you the best chance of serving your body well.
You may pick a cleanse in which all the meals are made and you don’t have to cook at all because the kids are home on Spring Break. Or maybe you got a new juicer and you want to try taking it for a serious spin with a 7-day juice detox. Or perhaps you’d like to build your cooking skills and overhaul your kitchen into a temple of health so a group with an online support element might be the best for you.
No matter what you choose, detoxing is no joke. Often the first days of a cleanse arrive with headaches, mood swings, fatigue, and fitful sleeps. As the body detoxes, some of those poisons get freed up from being trapped along our digestive tracts and they can be re-absorbed causing us to feel like we have a mild flu or a major bad mood. It will pass. I swear.
But before you even get to the first week, there are steps your can take to support your cleansing experience and help you ease into your Spring Cleanse with a sense of adventure and clarity.
1. Let people know your plan. 
Pick a few people around you who will be supportive of your plan for a Spring detox. Tell them know what your particular regimen entails, and how long the process will take. Let them know you’d appreciate their support as the first few days might not be so cute for you. For the ultimate in support, see if a friend would like to do the cleanse with you.
2. Clear out your schedule.
You’ve got your whole life to get freaky and party on down. Use this as an intentional time to prioritize your health. Block out the cleanse time on your calendar and keep your social plans as easy and laid back as possible. Go for walks with friends. Weekend matinees are great. Gentle exercise and museum meetings are perfect.
3. Prepare your kitchen. 
Look over your protocol and as the cleanse approaches, make your way through your everyday food so what remains in your kitchen are foods that make you feel strong and clean. Remind yourself that the foods you feel attached to are not going anywhere and when this cleanse comes to a close, you still have the choice to go and get them again. Although, magically, you may not want to.
4. Practice. 
If you’re doing a juice cleanse, start looking up juices on the internet and getting familiar with them. Get a feel for how much produce makes how much juice. See which herbs you like in your tonics and so on. If your cleanse is more on the whole foods tip, start dabbling is clean eating blogs and do some research on what kinds of cleanse foods might appeal to you. Begin practicing before the cleanse arrives so you have some established comfort with your new materials. It’s like Spring Training for baseball.
5. Ween off the heavy hitters.
If you are a coffee drinker, a sugar eater, a gluten eater, and/or a whiskey appreciator, you may want to begin to week yourself off these common ingredients that most cleanses abstain from. Going off coffee, sugar, gluten and booze is a lot for some people all overnight. Start drinking decaf or downgrade to green tea. Begin cooking with whole grains instead of serving dinner with bread. Just ease off things as your start date approaches.
Here I offer you one of my favorite cleanse tools. I like to prepare this broth and offer my body not just hydration in the days leading up to my cleanse, but also the rich potassium broth is a great source for electrolytes and building the blood up. I just tote it around in a quart sized mason jar and drink it like a tea.
The Cleansing Potassium Elixir

Ingredients
  • 3 T olive oil
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 bunch dark leafy greens (chard, kale, collards)
  • 4 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 beet sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • one knuckle ginger, sliced
  • 1 turnip, cubed
  • 1 onion, diced
  • ¼ stick of kombu
  • 6 cups filtered water
  • a tiny dash of sea salt
  • 1/4t black ground black pepper
Preparation
Heat your olive oil in a heavy pot. Put in your onions, garlic, carrots and celery. Heat these for about 5 minutes. Cover with water and bring to a rolling boil. Add in your beet, turnip, kombu, greens, and ginger. Boil for about 3 minutes and then turn down to simmer for 1.5 hours. Strain out all the vegetables and set aside. Pour your broth into mason jars and add your tiny amount of salt and pepper to taste. You can puree the vegetables for a side dish or compost.
This article originally appeared on MindBodyGreen.

Quit Sugar with Me! Super fun.

I’ll be like Julie McCoy, your Cruise Director

It took me so many tries to quit. And there’s no magic to it. But there are tools that make the possibility of success a little bit closer and a lot more fun that just a white knuckle sandwich.

I can’t know the story that brought you here. Maybe it’s all the news you hear about how terrible refined sugar is for your body. Maybe it’s the way Type II Diabetes keeps cropping up all over your family tree, and beside you with friends and co-workers. Or maybe it’s the annoyance of being such a slave to sugar, unable to say no even when you truly want to. Whatever the reason you come to this series, you’ll find the information you need to make changes, you’ll get support, use your inherent creativity, have fun, and build community.

This four-week course will happen on your own time with a group that meets online all day, every day, for the duration of our studies. You can literally come to the group at any time to write what you need or share a discovery with the group. This frees all of us up to have our own schedules and make these meanigful changes in our lives as they happen. You’ll also have a coaching call with me every other week, one on one, to support you through this work. In this way, support can also be customized to your needs.

Each week we’ll tackle a different topic or angle about the Great White Beast. You’ll get handouts and documents to keep for continued support long after the class is over. Together we will do exercises, make recipes, deconstruct cravings, keep journals, and get our bodies moving as we look at our attachment to sugar.

If giving up sugar has been a longtime goal of yours, this course is just the thing to help you.

Join me by signing up right here.

My Article on Quitting Sugar from MindBodyGreen

Quitting Sugar is a tough fight, but it’s worth it.

Sugar is taking a public beating this week, as the internet is crammed with articles on why to avoid it, including Michael Moss’s fascinating NYT Magazine piece on processed foods as well as yesterday’s NYT column column by beloved chef Mark Bittman.

Bittman’s article explores findings from a study that links sugar consumption, not obesity, to diabetes. According to the piece, “researchers found that increased sugar in a population’s food supply was linked to higher diabetes rates independent of rates of obesity. In other words, according to this study, obesity doesn’t cause diabetes: sugar does.”

Going beyond the link, Mr. Bittman finally says from the center of chefdom what health coaches and researchers like Dr. Robert Lustig have been saying for years:

Sugar is toxic.

Which is the best reason to quit sugar.

One of the forty million times I quit eating refined sugar (and hopefully the last), I had the magnificent idea to start a journal and track not just my food, but my THOUGHTS about food. How much of my intellectual life was being held hostage by food obsession? And how much of that chokehold was related to sugar? And finally, what might be available to me mentally if all that room was suddenly liberated for me to use in a less exhausting manner than the vicious mistress of obsessive thinking?

I also decided to do a little research about my sweet tooth and see why I felt so helpless in the glitter of its outstretched fingernails. I found this lecture that Dr. Lustig gave a lecture called Sugar: The Bitter Truth in which he shows us that sugar actually stimulates the exact same region of the brain that cocaine goes to work on. I like to call it the Euphoria Lounge. Who doesn’t want to be transported from feelings of suffering, boredom, fear, or betrayal simply by adding a substance to our systems? It is so much easier than talking it out, going for a run, being present in pain or accepting responsibility for things that are causing us harm. NO WONDER I LOVE SUGAR!!

But my journal revealed that the effects of sugar didn’t end simply with the stimulation. Without indulging in the initial impulse, I was able to keep my brain off the endless hamster wheel of desire and denial. “I want this but that’s bad so I can’t.” and then on an even worse day, “I want this so I WILL and now I AM BAD.” Then the sugar appears and the blood sugar Olympics begin their relentless training: the high, the crash, the craving, and mental gymnastics to deny the desire and so forth. And the whole time the mind is engaged in this cycle actively, countless hours are robbed from our waking lives.

So how do we get off the ride? Here are some basic tools for support in quitting sugar, serving the health of your body, and freeing your mind from obsession so you can go about the fantastic business of living.

1. SOUR: Just like on a color wheel where hues opposite from each other cancel each other out, so too is the landscape of our tongues. Having a sugar craving? Grab a pickle. The sour taste will physiologically kill the impulse long enough for you to make a different choice for yourself and mindfully return to the life you are in the middle of living.

2. SUPPORT: Grab a friend or a posse and do it together. The first few days and even two weeks can be so intense when we try and let go of a crutch that no longer serves our health. It’s ok to ask for help and having a friend engaged in a common goal serves to strengthen the entire team. I see this over and over in my group cleanses, how the power of community creates a momentum for everyone.

3. CHANGE OF SCENERY: When the impulse feels at full banshee-monster-head-banging massive, make a physical move. Walk around the block. Take yourself up and down the stairs at the office. Go swimming. Take the dog out. Move from one room of the house to another. Call up your sugar-free pal and talk it out. Remember the craving will pass. Everything does.

4. ADD MORE PLEASURE: Congratulate yourself each day by furnishing yourself with a pleasure. Giving up sugar is not about living in denial, it is about a new perspective of pleasure. Run yourself a gorgeous bath with essential oils and bath salts for added detoxification, aromatherapy, and muscular relaxation. Bring yourself flowers. Treat yourself to a mani/pedi or give one to yourself. Masturbate. Let’s face it, no one is ever mad about an orgasm.

When I was finally able to let go of sugar, I realized through my journal how much of my mental space had been taken up not just by the sugar craving and acrobatics around that, but by just food obsession in general. My mind is now so much freer to be creative, to be curious and alive. My focus is more clear and my relationships with people are deeper, more authentic and loving. I don’t sit with my friend over tea and wonder how long until I get to eat. I sit with my friend over tea and I think about how nice it is to have time to catch up with such a hilarious woman, and how lucky I am to know her.

The Smoothie Chronicles: Chapter 1

IMG_5312

I started making smoothies when I did my very first seasonal cleanse a few years back. At first I thought they would never keep me full until lunch and I panicked about not having enough food or enough chewing or blah blah blah. I guess Food Panic is a whole issue for a future post now that I’m typing. So for now, let’s just say I didn’t believe in these things. I didn’t like the idea of adding powders to things or feeling like I was going down the path a new bizarre disordered kind of eating that included cutting out BREAKFAST, the Holy Grail of meals. But I knew it was just for 3 weeks and I felt open to trying this detox so I just got on board. What the hell? I mean, I’ve done way crazier shit without a thought to my health at all, like for instance, doing crystal meth and not eating anything at all for like 3 days.

Who needs a smoothie now, Girl?

Anyhoots, turns out I loved them and even when I am between seasonal cleanses I make them all the damn time. It just kind of stuck with me. I have an old blender you can see here (along with the recipe for almond milk I use in all these little devils). While I tend to covet objects, I also find my Libra rising engenders a certain commitment to beauty far beyond functionality sometimes. In this case, it’s great because me and Ginger got this beautiful blender at an estate sale for next to nothing and the thing just doesn’t quit. It may not be the Vitamix or the Ninja we often dream of, but I can’t bring myself to get rid of such a pretty appliance that does it’s job just fine. All of this to say, you can be a smoothie enthusiast for much less than $600 in the equipment department. Also, in case you ARE looking to upgrade and are feeling shut down by sticker shock, fancy blenders and juicers are often things people re-sell on craigslist and ebay because they go through a phase and then say Fuck It, I’m Not A Smoothie/Juicing Person.

Over time, I’ve written a bunch of recipes for smoothies for my own cleanses that I do, but I’ve also just spent a bunch of time winging it. So I thought I’d collect some images with basic ingredients for you to toss together if you like. All the recipes I’ve made for the cleanses aren’t on here and often tend to greener, but not always. Anyhow, I hope these inspire and offer some good ideas for whatever you got going.

5 uses for Pot Liquor. This post brought to you by a reader’s comment.

After my bean post, a great colleague and health coach, Renee Martin, asked me about some things a person can do with the pot liquor after cooking the beans. I was going to just answer her, but I realized there are so many great things to do with the stuff that I’d just make a separate post about it. So here you go:

1. I love to use it a base for soup. It adds some texture and thickness to the base of the soup. In the way of this process, it can also be used as the base for a stock to then go into a soup later for when you have a hankerin’. I like to make stock as I go and I freeze it and throw a label on so I know when it went into the hopper. So take all your leek tops, onion skins and ends, carrot butts, parsnip heads, ginger skins, broccoli stems, kale spines and egg shells for you non-vegans (My friend, the artist, gardner and fantastic cook EE Miller taught me this. It adds calcium to the mix!) and boil them up in the liquor. I put it all into cheese cloth but you can also strain the liquid out after. any way that works for you. A vegetable stock doesn’t really need to cook down for a very long time, while a bone broth can simmer for a few hours.

2. Add it to your cornbread mixture and other savory baking adventures.

3. I sometimes cook my rinsed rice in it to bring richness and balance to a meal.

4. You can use it as a liquid for savory dips and hummus. I read about this someplace and haven’t tried it yet.

5. Use it in gravies and such. Especially tasty in a vegan gravy with hippie dust.

What else have ya’ll done with it? I imagine there’s a ton of stuff I haven’t even imagined. I bet you could even make a great Bloody Mary with it, although I am prone to a Virgin these days. I know I left that wide open for comments, and let the record reflect, I am not afraid.

*Inflammation Station Part 2: The Sweet 16 of Stress Reduction

You probably began reading this article because you feel, not just stressed out, but also TRAPPED in that stress. Your life is so packed up, there is no time to edit anything out, change any commitment, or find any space at all to make it to a goddamn yoga class with a mat strapped to your back on a crowded city bus. Or maybe you have too much to do to make the kids are getting their needs met. Or things at work are over the top tight now. You’ll find a way to tae care of yourself as soon as it slows down. But here are some ways to take care of yourself and your stress levels TODAY. NOW. Just pick one from the list and start there. Then  maybe two. Mix it up. Let yourself be healthy.
1.   
Breathing – Have you ever found yourself in the middle of an important meeting, when it occurs to you that you’re actually not breathing? If you look further, you might also notice that your heart rate is above normal and your temperature has risen. Taking deep breaths lowers your blood pressure, delivers oxygen to the far reaches of your body, and relaxes your alarm system into peace.
2.    Exercise – You do not have to be bench pressing Toyotas or climbing Mt. Shasta to reap the incredible rewards of exercise in terms of stress management. Exercise of any kind releases endorphins, your body’s own personal Dr. Feelgood chemicals. It also elevates your mood and self-confidence, while improving your sleep and increasing your overall daily energy reserves. Start slow. But start now.
3.    Creativity - When we engage in an act of creation, we can achieve a kind of focus similar to the concentration achieved through a meditation practice. Allowing yourself the time and space to focus on knitting a scarf, spinning a ceramic ewer or crafting a hilarious blog helps you to be present with yourself without tripping out on the future or the past. The act itself slows the pace of things and your body responds by relaxing, counteracting the effects of toxic stress.
4.    Schedule time for Yourself – Your calendar has a ton of things in it. Sally’s birthday dinner, a presentation for the marketing department, a training HR is sending you to attend for a whole weekend,. What it probably doesn’t say is “Wednesday from 2-3:30. Take self for a walk along the water. Read new detective novel on my favorite bench in the park. Go to the fencing class you’ve always wanted to go to.” Prioritize time for yourself at least once a week. Making this commitment actually strengthens your commitments to others, diminishing your overall stress levels of feeling, ironically, overcommitted.
5.    Interspecies Pals – Hang out with your dog Gus. Or your cat Parsnip. Or your fish Thelonius. Being with animals not only provides us comfort, but often it highlights simplicity and strips down the stress we labor under. Food. Shelter. Love. And a nice swim, except maybe for Parsnip.
6.    Sleep Getting a good night’s sleep can improve our concentration, our effectiveness and our energy levels. Try to lay off the liquids 2-3 hours before bed so as not to interrupt your slumber with an insistent bladder. Cut off the caffeine about 7 hours before you turn in. And try to get in bed the same time every night. Keeping yourself consistent with your pillow will begin to ratchet down your stress levels.
7.    Hilarity – Go ahead and laugh your ass off. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the release of endorphins. Laughter also stimulates circulation and aids muscle relaxation, both of which help reduce the physical symptoms of stress.
8.    Stretch – Yoga is great for stress. But look, I’m just going to go ahead and say it. It’s ok to hate yoga. Really. You don’t have to tote a little mat around town or invest in Lululemon wardrobes to reap the benefits of stretching. Just go ahead and start your day by doing five minutes of stretching and see how things go. You will be in more alignment, more embodied, and begin your whole day grounded. Literally.
9.    Dance and Sing –You can go out with friends and get lost in the thrill of a great sound system or stay home and get wild with whatever blows your dress up. Abandon and fun in a totally physical sense decrease your stress levels and free you from the tangle of daily irritation
10. Eat a Healthy Diet – Start your day with breakfast. Always. Starting your day with complex carbs, slow digesting fuel, will keep you full and energized for your morning. Keep your diet balanced, your consumption of refined sugars limited, and pile your plate with colorful produce. A balanced diet of whole foods and produce keeps your stress levels down and your blood sugar stable. This results in a more consistent energy and mood throughout the day.
11. Get loud about it – According to a recent study in Great Britain, work-related stress can be relieved by up to one quarter by letting out a good scream. Get primal. Just let it rip.
12. Call a Friend – You don’t have to do it alone. Call someone you trust and air out your stress. Let people go through it with you. The bonds of your relationships will strengthen, you can get it out of your head, and ultimately, you will take solace in human connection, an experience proven to reduce stress.
13. Gratitude – Studies show that cultivating gratitude can be one of the greatest weapons against stress out there. Keep a gratitude list by your bed and each night or morning (whichever suits you best) write down three things you’re grateful for. Everything from your new socks to a stable of wonderful friends. Begin cataloging all the things about life that rule, three at a time each day.
14. Get your Financial House in Order - If looking at finances gives you sharp emotional vertigo, schedule five minutes a day to begin assessing where you are. Just 5. And at the end of five minutes, move on with your life. Engaging yourself slowly and daily will build confidence, shake you quite gently out of denial, and put you on the road to making choices based in reality. Soon five minutes will turn to ten and then fifteen and healthy choices on that front will lead to peace and recovery in other venues.
15. Delegate – Do you hate spending so much time at the laundromat? Drop it off. Does looking for parking make you nuts? Take public transportation or treat yourself to a walk. Does paying bills drive you crazy? Set up automatic payments. I am not saying these are the right answers for you, I am just saying there ARE answers for you and you can take action to strip stressful things from your life.
16. 1979 Time – This is my favorite. Turn off your phone for an hour a day. Walk away from your computer. Close Facebook. Turn off the television. Just one hour a day. Read a poem. Go look at a tree or the sky. They get more and more fascinating if you let them. People really can wait an hour to hear from you or get an email response.

Think of all these things like a Venn diagram with overlapping circles or a fascinating chain reaction of good stuff. If you get a good night’s sleep, you wake with more energy and feel inspired to make yourself some steel cut oats for breakfast. Once that happens your morning is fully fueled and your cravings for sugar and caffeine diminish. Highs and valleys even out and your blood sugar stays healthy throughout your day. You take yourself away from your desk at lunch and sit outside in the sun reading a battered copy of Moby Dick you always meant to get to. That lights your creative spark and you plan a quick picnic dinner for your sweetheart and the two of you enjoy a pleasant evening together with no texting or TV reminding you why you are lucky to have companionship in your life. That leads you to remember other ways your life has delivered gifts like how your dentist told you your teeth look great.

The Domino effect works in both directions. Set yourself up for some serenity today. The world will do its part to offer you stress, so don’t keep helping it out. It’s doing just fine and it completely supports your new plan to give yourself abundance. And so do I.

*The original version of this first appeared in the WONDERFUL blog, MindBodyGreen

Stressed out at Inflammation Station : Part 1

Gus Seinberg: Gay, Jewish Dog.

One of the first things I ever taught Gus Seinberg how to do was spoon. Even when he was a puppy and I toted him around San Francisco in a bike bag, whiling away the hours on the back patio of The Bearded Lady Truckstop Cafe in a vintage slip with platform combat boots, it was never me that invested in him learning how to be a good dog. I’d take his puffy tiny body home and snuggle his back against me and smell the crown of his puppy head whispering to him all the things we’d do together, me and him. Sometimes he’d turn towards me and put his big floppy paws on my chest and just stare at me, his eyeliner and brown eyes pleading for language. We’d nap while I could have been doing something productive: working on a book, printing for a photography show, EXERCISING. But instead I’d watch the butts in the ashtray shift and morph into new heights and stare out the window of the studio apartment waiting for my girlfriend to come teach Gus something useful. Sit. Stay. Back Seat. Off.

This Cafe was Magical

Everything helpful he knows, he learned from her. I really only taught him how to spoon. To this day, if I lie down on any surface he can get to and I toss my arms out perpendicular to my body, he’ll heave his 50 lb body into me, back first, and lie his long face on the pillow by me. It’s one of my favorite things.

But now he’s a big dude and he has paws that don’t flop and they have big black talons on the ends of them. He still turns over and digs his feet into me and sometimes the nails get me. Then I have a weird welt across me, like a protester all risen up against the man, red faced and furious.

That’s inflammation. Not to state the obvious. But when did inflammation get so confusing? Who are these doctors who keep talking about inflammation and how it’s the root of all medical problems? Is my internal landscape a mighty welt? Is the inflammation about organs or tissues os the blood? Will it make me feel bad? Am I literally SWOLLEN? I have gotten the answer to this question through entire books and STILL felt confused. So let’s get super basic.

Inflammation leads to too much time at the hospital.

The first thing is that inflammation has a purpose. When the body is injured, in pain, stressed out or otherwise flummoxed, it responds to the injury and it’s actually trying to heal itself. Whether you’ve been cut or burned or stung or stabbed or whatever, the body has a bunch of cells that tell it something bad has happened. Your brain gets the pain message but the rest of you is busy as well. The site of the injury gets the message to increase blood flow to the injury and that happens by the blood vessels opening up to let more nutrients reach the injury. That’s why the site gets red and hot and puffy. The blood brings plasma and leukocytes, or white blood cells,  to get to work immediately in the healing process. So as all these responses from your immune system take place, not only do they act to help you by giving you a good dose of pain to let you know exactly what the injured piece of your body is capable of and NOT capable of (like, no don’t turn it THAT way!), but under all the red puffy action, there’s clotting and cleaning and repair going on.

So if inflammation is about healing, why all the evil chatter about it being the root of every major disease in the western world? Well, inflammation is supposed to just do its job and get on with it, as the British say. It’s an emergency system.

What does that have to do with being stressed out?
This is stressing me out.

Fight or Flight

Look, our minds and bodies arrived with convenient alarm systems to keep us safe from harm. Until just about 10,000 years ago, we Homo sapiens spent our days simply surviving just to get to the next one. We gathered berries, and whittled wood into sharp points. We tested mushrooms with a high cost of trial and error, stalked game, and sought out water sources. We found shelter and warmth, companionship. At the same time, of course, creatures sought us as their dinner as well, and upon sight of, let’s say, a mountain lion staring us down, our bodies would sound the sirens loud and focused, giving us two famous choices: Fight or Flight.

In this moment, the phenomenal body does some serious acrobatics in its efforts to keep us alive. Our hypothalamus, a powerful gland sitting pretty at the base of our brains, sends in the troops of defense. Using a team of nerves and hormones, these players poke our adrenal glands, just chilling out in a catnap above our kidneys, telling them to get the hell up and deliver us a wallop of hormones featuring the big stars: adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline’s job is to increase our heart rates, and as it does so, elevate our blood pressure and catapult our energy supplies into survival levels. Cortisol, the big cheese of stress hormones, is quite busy with its own tasks, increasing sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, to making extra energy available for thinking in lightning speed fashion (the brain functions solely on the power of glucose). It also increases the availability of substances that repair the body’s tissues, on alert for possible injury.

And if that wasn’t enough, cortisol also acts as a master editor, slicing out nonessential functions that would slow us in a fight-or-flight situation. For instance, it demotes immune system responses and stops paying attention to the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This heightened state is not concerned with your biological clock, your desire for dinner, or for crying out loud, your height.

But what happens to this system when the threat never passes?

The Heart

Modern life in our Western culture doesn’t present us with quite as many mountain lion threats or whittling opportunities as it used to. What it does present us with are continuously stressful situations of the 21st century. Will we lose the home we spent our entire lives working for? Can we retain our job toiling in a cube for 60 hours a week to make endless deadlines? Will our partners stay with us and give us the love we need when they barely remember what we look like? Remaining constantly on edge keeps us in a consistent state that was designed to last for only moments, and our systems begin to break down under the demands of our constant requests for extra troops in the fight. In a healthy body, the body’s stress response system is supposed to be self-regulating. Once we escape from the mountain lion, or the thief in the alley, or the car swerving out in front of us, our levels should return to their happy places, decreasing hormone levels, blood pressure, and adrenaline once the threat to our body has passed. At this point, our digestive system once again begins its digesting (not to mention its manufacturing of serotonin), our reproductive systems return to watching over our abilities to conceive and procreate, and our growth hormones relax into a healthy aging process.

The problem with stress in our lives today is that our minds tell our bodies that we are under constant assault. These systems stay on alert, breeding chronic physical, psychological, and emotional crises that feed each other and reinforce problems. Overloading our bodies with exposure to cortisol and its other stress hormone cronies disrupts almost all of our body’s functions. Constant inflammation. This puts us at increased risk of numerous health problems, including, and unfortunately not limited to:

  • Heart disease
  • Insomnia
  • Digestive tract ailments
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Memory impairment
  • Skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis.

So what are we supposed to do? Good question. Part 2 of the series will cover some stress reduction tips. Until then, just continue appreciating your dog. Especially if he’s as cute as Gus.

 

Sugar Detox: The Wonderful, The Ecstatic, and the SUPER UGLY, plus bonus popsicles.

photo (46)

I’ve quit doing a lot of things in my life. Smoking took a few times. Like 6. Each time I picked up, I chose a new brand, the last one being hand-rolled numbers that smelled sweet and earthy twirling into a column between my thumb and two fingers. I’m hoping this last effort from a few years back will do it for good. I quit smoking weed, I dunno when that happend, it just went away. I quit coffee a few times, have it only on the rare road trip because something about crappy road coffee with radioactive French Vanilla creamer still appeals to me. Also

Love/Hate

Dunkin’ Donuts coffee whenever in Boston is a must, also French Vanilla. (I don’t want you to get the idea I don’t know anything about coffee, although it’s ok if your impression is that, like summer vacation, I have no class. But I do take my decaf cravings to irritatingly divine local micro roasteries.) I gave up crystal meth and dreamed about it for weeks, making nights long and not so restful. Also falling by the wayside came pretty much the rest of the DEA Schedule II drugs, watching America’s Next Top Model, apathy, dating assholes, and you guess it, refined sugars. And guess which one was the worst?

This stuff makes me INSANE

Correct.

The gosh dang SUGAR.  More difficult than giving up the dashing butch rogues even. Why bother? It made me so crazy. I would watch myself polish off a whole pound of gummi bears, eating even after my tongue started to fritz out. I’d plow through chocolate forgetting entirely to enjoy it, and pastries would find their way to oblivion in my hands, only at the last few bites, me realizing I hadn’t any recollection of the beginning, sometimes leading me to try again with another. I’d miss conversations with people trying to discern if I was looking casual while angling to get enough pie, then worry that everyone noticed how weirdly I ate the entire shared dessert. Plus the kicker was I had no FREEDOM in the matter.

Everybody loves Tim Riggins.

Now, I am a lady who believes wholly in choice. I am a feminist who believes we women can have health at any size and when we have peace, our bodies will respond by asking for what they need and reside in healthy places if we give them that. But in the throws of sugar, I had no choice. I was simply a disembodied hand reaching for themed sheet cakes from Safeway. It started to really piss me off that not only did I feel unhappy in the feminist body I was dragging my great life around in, but also that I had to reckon with the fact that after I had dumped all these chemicals, I still had this one completely controlling me. I was kind of sugar’s little plaything. And so little by little, I tried to get out from under it. The short of it is, it took a few tries.

5 days worth of this.

It felt like shit. Sugar detox is no joke: scorching headaches, bouts of total rage, entire acres of real estate in the mind occupied by what feels like a prison of No Fun for the rest of time. Aches, creaks, lethargy came round calling, the likes of which I had not experienced since the crystal meth left my system, plus just good old fashioned self-pity.

And then there’s the after: about five days later, my brain began to clear. Then it actually kept clearing. My focus got sharper and sharper. My energy went nuts, like I was high but with no tweaker feelings at all. I just woke into the world, clear and energized, ready to do my thing. My insane cravings for sugar waned and oddly, so did my cravings for other things: chips and pizza and cheeseburgers. It isn’t that I never got them, it’s that they registered as clues rather than commands. Cheeseburger daydreams, which I’ve been having constantly during the first 5 days of this cleanse, translate to protein. When I get enough, the craving vanishes. I get to have choices about the protein I take. Chips usually mean I want crunchy things. This also, for me, indicates I’m stressed out, irritated, or annoyed. So it also indicates a trip to the gym or a run is in order. In the mean time I can crunch on carrots or bell peppers or the best crackers ever, Sami’s (gluten free) millet and flax chips. Pizza means I have good taste. WHO THE HELL DOESN’T WANT PIZZA!?!? And for the most part, I rarely eat the iconic things that come up if they are going to impact my well being. And if I do choose to have them, it’s not because I am caving in. I get really good stuff, eat it slowly, savor it, ENJOY MY LIFE, and the gifts that taste and texture have to offer. The 15 pounds I dropped when I quit sugar helped as well. It was nice for my wallet because I didn’t have to shop for new clothes. I felt more comfortable moving in the world, and I finally got some idea of the weight my body felt the best at. It had been years since I had any clue, if ever.

The other thing that happened is I got more creative with food. I began cooking more, reading labels and understanding the way my body felt in reaction to things. Agave came around as the world’s next answer to living without the all powerful sweetness of life, but that also made me feel cracked out. Turns out it’s processed much like corn syrup so that makes sense. But brown rice syrup tasted great and I felt fine eating it. Small treats of maple syrup and honey also work for me. Whole fruit is my favorite. And like I said earlier, lately I’ve been obsessed with popsicles. All the ones I make are sugar-free and pretty delightful. These ones have quite a kick:

Put about 3/4 c of pineapple hunks, an 8oz. container of raw coconut water, a knuckle of ginger and 1/2 a cucumber in the blender. Whirl it around and then freeze your pops. Makes 5. And each has 25 calories. If you care about that kind of thing.