Category Archives: Info

The Skinny on Sleep

Maverick Fire

How is your sleep? Do you wake up tired? Have problems going to sleep? Wake up in the middle of the night? Take a gander at the sleep practices listed below and see what you can implement to improve your sleep.

Sleep Hygiene:

Sleep hygiene is a variety of different practices that are necessary to have normal, quality nighttime sleep and full daytime alertness. Sleep hygiene can be compared to any other type of hygiene, like dental hygiene, you brush your teeth at least twice per day as well as use mouth wash and floss daily to take care of your teeth and have optimal dental health. Like dental hygiene, there are things that can be done every day to achieve optimal sleep.

Sleep Hygiene Practices:
  • The most important sleep hygiene measure is to maintain a regular sleep and wake pattern seven days a week.
  • Avoid napping during the day; it can disturb the normal pattern of sleep and wakefulness. If you are still able to sleep well at night, a 30-45 minute nap during the afternoon is fine.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol too close to bedtime. While alcohol is known to speed the onset of sleep, it disrupts sleep in the second half as the body begins to metabolize the alcohol, causing arousal. This is the reason that you feel exhausted the next day if you imbibed a little too much the night before. Stop drinking caffeine and/or alcohol 4-6 hours before bed time.
  • Exercise can promote good sleep. Vigorous exercise should occur in the morning or late afternoon. Try not to do vigorous exercise within 2 hours of going to bed as this can disrupt sleep. A relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep. There are actually specific yoga positions that help promote sleep.
  • Food can be disruptive right before sleep; stay away from large meals close to bedtime.  And, remember, chocolate has caffeine. Avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods 4-6 hours before bedtime. These can affect your ability to stay asleep. However, warm milk and/or foods containing tryptophan can help with the onset of sleep.
  • Ensure adequate exposure to natural light. Light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
  • Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine. Pre-sleep rituals, such as a warm bath or a few minutes of reading, can help you sleep. Use deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation to help you relax to get you ready for sleep.
  • Relax your mind. Try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations and activities before trying to go to sleep. If you run through all of the things you need to do the next day while laying in bed, you will have a harder time falling asleep.  Dedicate a few minutes, before going to bed, to create a to-do list for the next day so you can ease your anxiety about forgetting to do something.
  • Still having a hard time pushing stressful thoughts away?  Use distraction techniques such as imagining a peaceful scene (lake, ocean, mountains, forest) including all of the senses you may experience there (what does it look like? smell like? feel like? sound like?) or imagine watching a clock countdown from 100 on a curtain backdrop.  Incorporate deep breathing into these exercises.
Sleeping Environment:
  • Use comfortable and clean bedding.
  • Find a comfortable temperature setting for sleeping and keep the room well ventilated. If your bedroom is too cold or too hot, it can keep you awake. A cool bedroom is often the most conducive to sleep. Recommended sleeping temperature is 62-68 degrees F. Remember to turn that thermostat down as you go to bed each night (or buy a programmable thermostat. . . you will save money and the environment too!)
  • Block out all distracting noise, and eliminate as much light as possible. Use a sleep machine (or sleep application on your phone). Turn off your phone or turn it on to “airplane mode” or “do not disturb”. Sleep in the absolute dark, if possible, or use a sleep mask.
  • Associate your bed with sleep. Do not work in bed.  Don’t stay sit in bed and use your tablet, phone or laptop.  Turn off your electronics about an hour before you plan to go to sleep.
  • Your television, tablets and phones will keep you up and will cause you to have less restful sleep when you are actually able to fall asleep. This is because these electronics are very engaging, you use multiple senses when using these devices.  The radio is a less engaging medium than TV, phones and tablets and may help some people fall asleep.  If you must have a TV in your bedroom, set strict boundaries as to when it is on and when it is off.  Give yourself ample time to reset after the TV is turned off before you plan to go to sleep.
  • Use scents to help you sleep. Lavender, Chamomile, Bergamot, Jasmine, Rose and Sandalwood are all scents that have been associated with assisting with the on-set of sleep.  Feel free to buy lotions or fragrances at most beauty stores containing these scents or buy essential oils and make your own sprays, lotions, etc.
What if I wake up during the night?

Most people wake up one or two times a night for various reasons. If you find that you get up in the middle of night and cannot get back to sleep within 15-20 minutes, then do not remain in the bed “trying hard” to sleep. Get out of bed. Leave the bedroom. Read, have a light snack, do some quiet activity, listen to the radio or take a bath. You will generally find that you can get back to sleep 20 minutes or so later. Do not perform challenging or engaging activity such as office work, housework, working out, etc. Do not watch television, use your phone or tablet.

How do I know the best sleep hygiene routine for me?

If you’re taking too long to fall asleep, or awakening during the night, you should consider revising your bedtime habits. Most important for everyone is to maintain a regular sleep-wake schedule throughout the week and consider how much time you spend in bed, which could be too much or too little.

Sources:

The National Sleep Foundation

University of Maryland Medical Center

How Food Affects Mood

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“I am too tired to work out or cook tonight. . . really any night.”

I hear it all of the time from people around me. Geez, I used to say it all of the time (and let’s be honest, I still do but not nearly as often). I would get home from work and be exhausted and not want to do, well, anything. I never understood how my diet was affecting my mood until I drastically improved my diet. Now, the more I learn about the connection between diet and emotions, the more I believe that I am in control of how I feel every day. We must remember that the connection between food and mood is complex and varies from person to person. However, studies have shown significant relationships between certain food nutrients and mood that most people can benefit from.

“The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition.” – Thomas Edison

For those that may be protesting this quote already, I am NOT advocating for doctors to stop prescribing anti-depressant medications to those who are depressed nor anti-anxiety medications to those with anxiety. Far from it actually. (I work in the mental health field, I know the critical importance of medications as they relate to health, especially mental health). However, I do believe that psychotropic medications can be supplemented by diet and exercise just like most other medical medications (ex. doctors often want people to improve their cholesterol levels with diet and exercise, not just a pill). So, will an improved, healthy diet eliminate the need for psychotropic medications in all people? Of course not. Will an improved, healthy diet help someone with mental health issues continue down the road to recovery and overall wellness? Yes, I strongly believe it will.

But this just isn’t about someone with a diagnosed mental illness, it is about anyone that eats food. 

Now the difficulty often lies in how food affects our mood as mood also affects the food we choose to eat (What came first, the sadness or the pint of ice cream?).  This becomes difficult because if you already feel depressed, you want comfort foods or foods that make you happy (read: sugar/refined carbs) but these are some of the very things that can contribute to depression, anxiety and any other number of mood disorders.  The food/mood cycle seems much like quicksand, once you are in it, it is really hard to get out.  Much like quicksand, often the solution to the problem is to do the opposite of our immediate response.  If you find yourself in quicksand, you want to escape, so you move quickly-flailing your arms and legs about, but moving makes things worse. Doing the opposite is the key. . .move slowly, progressively and with purpose (you don’t actually stay still, that will just keep you in the quicksand). 

The very same concept can be applied to the food/mood cycle.  If you are already feeling bad (read: anxiety/fatigue/depression) you may choose to go for comfort foods first, but it is those very foods that have the ability to exacerbate your feelings of anxiety, depression and/or fatigue. By doing what our body is telling us to do, we make things worse, dragging us further into the quagmire.  However, the solution, just like with quicksand, is to do the opposite. Eat something you are not craving: does that ice cream look appealing? Eat an apple.  Want potato chips? Choose carrots.  Feel as though you want to lay around all day? Get up and do something physically active.  (In mental health, specifically, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, this is called Opposite to Emotion). This actually works and works well, but the key is to actually do it.

There are numerous studies that attempt to identify what foods and nutrients affect certain moods and there is conflicting information. However, most studies agree on about 10 different mood enhancing foods and/or actions.

Tryptophan: It increases serotonin levels (a mood regulator) with the help of B vitamins. Foods thought to increase serotonin levels include fish and vitamin D. However, it is easier to get tryptophan into the system through smart carbohydrates: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.

Omega-3s: These may assist with decreasing symptoms of depression. . . the verdict is still out. However, there are many other benefits to getting your daily dose of Omega-3s (so take that supplement!).

Eat Breakfast: A good breakfast is associated with more energy throughout the day, possibly better memory and more feelings of calm. A good breakfast = lean protein, healthy fats and healthy carbs (think whole grains/fruits).

Eat Regularly: Seriously, eat every 3-4 hours, excuse me, eat something that includes protein every 3-4 hours. Don’t just eat three meals a day. If I don’t eat every few hours, I notice my energy levels depleting and my mood worsens. (Just the other day, I literally started to cry because I needed the sheets washed at that moment, then realizing that I had not eaten anything yet after being up for over an hour . . . ridiculous). It isn’t just me, eating something that includes protein every few hours helps keep blood sugar levels and mood stable.

Folate and Vitamin B12: Studies have shown that as folate and Vitamin B12 consumption decreases, depression rates tend to increase. So eat more leafy greens (not just iceberg lettuce), lentils, asparagus and peas.

Vitamin D: Remember that whole tryptophan/serotonin connection? (if not, you totally skipped ahead and didn’t read it, didn’t you?) Well, it is made possible partly due to Vitamin D which increases levels of serotonin in the brain. However, it is really not known how much you need every day the recommended dosage is about 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D a day (however, make sure to talk to your doctor first).

Selenium: May improve symptoms of depression. Foods rich in selenium include: seafood, nuts and seeds (particularly Brazil nuts), lean meat (lean pork and beef, skinless chicken and turkey), whole grains (whole-grain pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, etc.), beans/legumes, low-fat dairy products.

Caffeine & Alcohol: In people with sensitivity, caffeine may exacerbate depression. (And if caffeine keeps you awake at night, this could certainly affect your mood the next day.) Alcohol is actually a significant depressant and it negatively impacts your sleep, which can make your mood even worse the next day.

Simple Sugars: Carbohydrates from simple sugars are the classic comfort food. Carbs that produce a short surge of glucose in your bloodstream (think carb foods made from white sugar, white flour, white rice, etc.) you’ll get a short-lived sugar high and then get hit with a mood-wrecking crash. For a consistent positive mood, choose whole grain, high fiber carbohydrate sources with lasting powers.

Dehydration: Not having enough water in your system can cause all sorts of problems including: dry mouth, hunger, headaches, low blood pressure and altered mental status. It also can be a very common contributor to fatigue. 

With all of those diet books out there (and everything you see in this blog), the perfect diet to enhance mood and performance remains unknown.  There are many studies that have shown relationships between certain foods and nutrients and mood but some of these findings are still controversial. The best thing to do is eat a well-balanced diet that is rich in numerous vegetables and fruits, high in lean protein and includes healthy fats.  Additionally, getting enough macronutrients is important, so take those supplements! 

The Breakdown:
  1. Eat smart carbohydrates
  2. Get your Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  3. Eat Breakfast
  4. Eat Regularly
  5. Get enough folate and vitamin B12 .
  6. Get enough Vitamin D.
  7. Get more selenium.
  8. Limit caffeine and alcohol intake.
  9. Avoid trans fats and refined sugar.
  10. Drink enough water.

Sources:

Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science

Livestrong

Psychology Today

WebMD

What do you eat?

Inevitably, when I discuss my diet, after the “Why” question, I am always asked “What do you eat?”  I am used to this as my dairy allergy has caused people to ask this question for my entire life.  Now, things are a bit more complicated as dairy, gluten, corn, peanuts, most soy and all processed foods are eliminated from my diet.  “What do you eat?” is a normal question in this wheat-filled, allergen-filled, processed, society.

My answer typically is some variation of “Lots of fruits, vegetables, and protein” but that doesn’t really give people an idea of how much variety my diet encompasses.

Please keep in mind that has taken me over a year to make these changes in my diet.  I made changes one at a time and didn’t make another change until the last was habit.  This diet works for me because of the time I took to make the changes. When I stick to this diet:

I NEVER feel hungry and I NEVER feel deprived of anything.  I NEVER have cravings for the foods I used to eat.  I am always satisfied with my meals and I keep losing weight.

Can you say the same?  I hope so. 

 

What go-to snack helps you stay full until your next meal?

Here is a glimpse of what I typically eat throughout the week:

Breakfast:

– Scrambled Eggs with broccoli, tomatoes and onions (using a bit of almond milk)

Sausage, Peppers and Onion Frittata

Chia Seed Pudding/Yogurt with Fruit and Nuts

Lunch:

– Whatever was leftover from the previous day 🙂

– Grilled Chicken spinach salad

– Soup with a side of carrots and an apple

***I emphasize protein and veggies during lunch at work but always end my lunch with a piece of fruit.

Dinner:

– Any of the recipes you see on this site. A sampling below:

Chicken, Potatoes and Green Beans

Italian Sausage with Peppers, Potatoes and Onions

White Wine Garlic Shrimp

Dessert:

– Homemade sorbet

Apple Cinnamon Dessert

– Any kind of fruit

*** I rarely make dessert as I consider fruit dessert.

Snacks:

– Dried fruit & Nuts

– Beef jerky

– Fresh fruit w/almond butter

– Dry rice chex

Chia Pudding/Yogurt

– Veggies and hummus

***I always try to eat protein with my snacks.

***I usually have 2-3 snacks a day.

Happy Anniversary to Me! (1 Year Gluten-Free)

It has officially been one year with no gluten and I have never felt better! I felt it was time I give myself a small pat on the back for an accomplishment my old self never would’ve believed I could achieve. Seriously, I was a gluten addict but I broke the cycle.

Now that we have the mushy stuff out-of-the-way, I need to get back to business and set some new health and wellness goals. I like to evaluate and reevaluate every so often to see what progress I am making.  I have achieved a lot in the past year but I still have work to do. I continue to struggle with inflammation and need to keep improving my diet. Additionally, I need to start working out more consistently and pick up the intensity.

As you probably know, goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely). I like to be held accountable with my goals, so I am making these goals very public. Also, goals should be about a positive change, as a supervisor once put it;

“If a dead person can do it, it is not a goal.”

Meaning, the goal should be something you work to do. A goal shouldn’t be something that you work to not do. You shouldn’t make a goal to eliminate a bunch of things from your diet. Why? If you did that, what would you eat? As my old supervisor would say, “Can a dead person eliminate food x, y, & z from their diet?” Yes, yes they can, as they are dead and do not eat anything.  Pretty easy to eliminate foods if you aren’t eating. A goal should be about some kind of actionable change, what you will do differently.

Anyway, I have A LOT of goals that I am working on and planning to work towards.

Diet Goals:
1. Completely replace coffee for white, green and oolong teas (which have anti-inflammatory properties) in the next two weeks. **If I can actually do this, it would be HUGE for me!**
2. Increase the amount of whole grains (quinoa, brown rice) and leafy greens in my diet while eliminating refined gluten-free flours and sugars (including fruit juice).
3. Use the correct oils for cooking (olive oil, palm oil, walnut oil) and avoid using all vegetable oils, margarines and peanut oil.
4. Increase the amount of beans, sprouts and nuts I eat to at least one serving per day except for soybeans, which should be kept to one serving per week and peanuts which should be completely avoided.
5. Increase the amount of non-starchy vegetables each day while eliminating corn from diet and decreasing potatoes to 3-4 servings per week and peas to once per week.
6. Increase the frequency of eating fish/seafood to once per week as well as taking an omega 3 supplement at least 2 days per week(I never take them now).
7. Drink at least 100 oz of water per day.

Wellness Goals:
1. Complete two moderate to intense workouts per week at least 45-60 minutes long.
2. Engage in 3 light yoga workouts per week, at least 25 minutes each.
3. Do something fun, out of the house each and every week with my husband.

Phew! These are all things I had in my head, once I put the goals on paper, it looks like a lot! However, I am working on most of these goals and am close to making quite a few of the diet goals permanent lifestyle changes.  However, I have A LOT of work to do in the exercise department.

Now that I have committed to these goals in writing, I can go back and evaluate and reevaluate my progress every so often to see how I am doing, pat myself on the back and/ or make changes.

What are some of your goals?

What are you currently working to improve in your life to make you more well?

What have you tried to do that hasn’t worked yet? (Yet being the operative word. . . it is always possible)

Top Most Inflammatory and Anti-Inflammatory Foods

TOP ANTI-INFLAMMATORY FOODS:
 
1. Foods High in Omega-3s: Try and incorporate oily fish into your diet twice weekly. If you don’t like fish, try a high quality fish supplement, avocados, flax seeds, or chia seeds.
 
2. Kelp and Kombu: High in fiber, this brown algae extract helps control liver and lung cancer, douses inflammation, and is anti-tumor and anti-oxidative.
 
3. Extra Virgin Olive Oil: This oil provides a healthy dose of fats that fights inflammation, can help lower risks of asthma and arthritis, as well as protect the heart and blood vessels. 
 
4. Cruciferous Vegetables: Broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale and cauliflower are all loaded with antioxidants. Naturally detoxifying, they can help rid the body of possible harmful compounds.
  
5. Berries: Aim for organic berries, as pesticides are hard to wash away due to their size and skin. You can also try pineapple, mango and papaya.
 
6. Spices: Tumeric, Cinnamon, Basil and Cayenne Pepper are anti-inflammatory. Ginger contains a host of health benefits. Among them, it helps reduce inflammation and control blood sugar. Ginger tea is a great addition to any diet.
 
7. Garlic: Though a little more inconsistent (in terms of research), garlic can help reduce inflammation, regulate glucose and help your body fight infection. 
 
8. Green Tea: Like produce, this tea contains anti-inflammatory flavonoids that may even help reduce the risks of certain cancers. 
 
9. Sweet Potato: A great source of complex carbs, fiber, beta-carotene, manganese and vitamin B6 and C, these potatoes actually help heal inflammation in the body. 
 
10. Shiitake Mushrooms: These are an excellent anti-inflammatory and help your immune system fight cancer.
 
11. Fermented Foods: Some of fermented foods include organic raw apple cider vinegar, kimchi, kombucha and other fermented veggies (sauerkraut and pickles, not made in vinegar but in lactobacterial-salt. For more details and benefits of fermented foods go to Mark’s Daily Apple.
 
 
TOP 10 INFLAMMATORY FOODS:
 
1. Sugar: We get enough natural sugar in our diets in fruits, vegetables and grains.  Try to limit your intake of processed foods and foods with added sugar.
 
2. Common Cooking Oils: Safflower, soy, sunflower, corn, and cottonseed. These oils promote inflammation and are made with cheaper ingredients.  Additionally, traditional corn and soy growers use a lot of pesticides.
 
3. Trans Fats: Trans fats are in most processed foods.  It is not a naturally occurring fat, it is man-made and leads to inflammation.
 
4. Dairy: Dairy is hard on the body. Milk is a common allergen that can trigger inflammation but many people aren’t aware of their intolerance.  The estimate is that 70% of the world’s population has a dairy intolerance.
 
5. Feedlot-Raised Meat/Processed Meat: Animals who are fed with grains like soy and corn contain high inflammation. These animals also gain excess fat and are injected with hormones and antibiotics. Always opt for organic, free-range meats who have been fed natural diets. Red meat contains a molecule that humans don’t naturally produce called Neu5GC. Once you ingest this compound, your body develops antibodies which may trigger constant inflammatory responses.
 
6. Alcohol: Regular consumption of alcohol causes irritation and inflammation to numerous organs, try to limit alcohol consumption to once per week and reduce the amount of servings you imbibe.
 
7. Refined Grains: “Refined” products have no fiber and have a high glycemic index. They are everywhere: white rice, white flour, white bread, pasta, pastries… Try and replace with minimally processed grains. Grains in general can be inflammatory for certain people as well.
 
8. Artificial Food Additives: Aspartame and MSG are two common food additives that can trigger inflammation responses. Try and omit completely from the diet. Both of these can hide in almost any food, so read the labels!
 
9. High Fructose Corn Syrup: Although this is technically sugar, it deserves its own category.  HFCS hides in many processed foods.  This can lead to diabetes, obesity, gallbladder disease and coronary heart disease.
 
10. Anything: Everyone is different.  Some people have allergies or intolerances to certain foods when many others do not.  If you have any feelings of fatigue, headaches, chronic inflammation-related illnesses, take a look at your diet, it could be something you have always ate but didn’t know bothered you!
 
 
Sources:
U.S. News Health
Web MD