Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Loss and Gain, Love and Light.

Dear Reader (If you're still out there. I hope you're still out there. Baby, come back?),

It has come to my attention that I have started what could quite possibly be the most neglected blog ever. I would like to extend my sincerest apologies.

I would also like to explain that this neglect was not a result of a lack of appreciation for you, dear reader, nor was it a result of a lack of enthusiasm for the subject matter. To connect so quickly with savvy, talented, and funny fellow bloggers while sharing my true passion is an awesome experience, one that I hope continues.

2010 was full of losses and gains: I ended a lengthy and meaningful romantic relationship, experienced the deaths of my great-grandmother and grandmother, moved twice, at one point was working four jobs, and wound up (naturally) feeling a little less than peacefully insightful.

And I'm sure if we compared notes, anyone's list would be just as (if not more) hefty.

I worked really hard, burned out, and then was way too hard on myself for feeling so. The result? More burn-out.

I wanted to rip my hair out. "What do I possibly have to offer?" I thought, "How can I help others when I don't even know what day it is?". I felt the need to re-think and re-group, and the process involved a bit of a hibernation period. I knew I needed to get back on my pony, but I didn't even know where the darn thing was (and the one I pictured was looking more Chinese Crested than Shetland). I wanted to be the gleaming image, the absolute epitome of all that is good health, but I was feeling a little less than vibrant. As a result, I withdrew even more. I felt that if I wasn't feeling on top of the world every single day, then no one would want to hear anything that I had to share.

I eventually realized that I was doing okay, and that my much needed rest was well deserved. I started running more, began a meditation practice, nixed some of the toxic habits and people in my life and started doing what really matters the most to me. (And if anyone is truly interested, what matters the most to me involves really hot baths accompanied by good books, red wine, and bad singing. It also involves going to bed way earlier than what is deemed as hip or exciting.)

As I reflect on my experience of 2010, I fully realize that there is a lesson to be learned here. We know it, we've heard it again and again, and yet we rarely apply this truth: There is no such thing as perfection. And striving for perfection is not healthy. Not one bit.

Health and wellness is not a matter of self-discipline, denial, will-power or punishment. (I'd like you to re-read this as we approach January, the month of diet experimentation and gym vow renewals.)

Health is a matter of self-nourishment, self-love, self-appreciation, and patience. Taking the time to realize that you, _______, are beautiful the way you are. And the road to feeling better and becoming healthier involves making decisions based on what's going to make you feel good and what's going to physically and emotionally nourish you. I invite you to make a list right now of things you would enjoy doing in the coming year in lieu of things you feel obligated to do/things that someone else has told you would make you a "better person".

A major part of recognizing and practicing self-love is realizing that it is completely acceptable to slow down. We are human beings, not human doings, and we need time to observe that and just be.

You see, there is no pony. Or rather, the pony is within you. Searching for something outside of ourselves is not going to help us achieve our dreams. We already have everything we need. It's the realization of this that seems to be the most allusive thing, but I believe we can get there, step by step.

In closing, I suggest we toast 2011 with the realization that we're all pretty great. Let's get ready to rock it with positive changes and true self-love.

You are valuable, you're your own best asset, and you've got what it takes, so take care.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Healthy Bacteria Pt.1: What's in Your Yogurt?

You know that commercial where the guy is on the phone with his friend, bragging about all the desserts he's been eating? And then he rambles about how he's only losing weight in spite of the desserts consumed, and then his eyebrow-raising wife reveals in the background that he's actually eating yogurt, and then he awkwardly gets off of the phone?

Well, that's just marketing. And it works pretty well. But frankly, it's b.s.

The yogurt featured in that commercial, with oodles of flavors to satisfy anyone's sweet-tooth is, as my friends from Skinny Bitch say, "a chemical shitstorm". The synthetic sweeteners, colorings, flavorings, etc in most of the yogurts on the market are only perpetuating an imbalance in the body and can actually promote unhealthy cravings in the future. They are not even close to being a healthy eating option, and very bad for the body.

And then we have that "regulating" yogurt which, shame on you Jamie Lee Curtis, is jam-packed with high fructose corn syrup and artificial dyes.

These chemicals do not belong in our bodies, our food, and can lead to feeling and looking pretty crappy.

If you love yogurt, opt for a more natural, unhomogenized variety, free of sweeteners and full of fat. Erivan is a great choice for the yogurt lover. You can visit their website http://erivandairy.com/default.aspx and read about their products. Having full-fat dairy here and there is a much better option than guzzling the artifical, "lite" stuff on a daily basis. Take it upon yourself to sweeten naturally with some berries and a dab of honey. This way you control exactly what's going into your body.

There are also options like kefir, a fermented milk drink that has a ton of healthy bacteria to balance the gut. Use your label detective skills and read the tub to ensure there isn't anything added, no sugar, fake sweeteners, no nothin'.

If regularity is an issue, eat your fruits and veggies! The soluble and insoluble fiber found in veggies, fruits, and whole grains will bulk you up (as in your colon, honeys, not your physique) and help things move smoothly. Something as simple as drinking warm water with lemon in the morning will help things start to move along as well.

Be a label detective, and don't be a sucker for advertisers that make a killing in the board room. They work to sell products, not protect your health. You've got what it takes, so take care.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Spring clean your body, baby.

Hello and happy gorgeous weather. Spring starts tomorrow. Some of you may be scrubbing your floors, rearranging the wardrobe, and figuring out what not to hoard after watching A&E's tragically entertaining documentaries. I know I certainly am (trying not to hoard, that is).

Did you know that with this cycle that comes with the seasonal change on the outside, our bodies crave ever-changing seasonal things to go on the inside, to stay in tune with natural rhythms? In the spring our bodies work to burn up fat and get ready for the higher energy, sun-fueled days and crops of the summer.

Once upon a time, our grandparents' grandparents lived off of the land around them. They ate the crops that were available during different harvests, turning to heavier/fatty foods available in the cold months. In the spring the human body works to burn up fat and get ready for the spring and summer (so yes, it is natural to gain a few pounds during the holidays, and it is natural for us to lose them). To continue eating the heavy, holiday-esque foods from the past few months would be giving our bodies and well being a great disservice.

For the next few months, we should consider dropping most of the animal foods (optimally all of them) to go along with the body's seasonal rhythm. In doing this, our bodies will efficiently burn off unwanted, excess weight that kept us insulated in the cold weather.

As a rule of thumb, for Spring we should consume less or completely eliminate dairy. Try a plant milk instead of your normal fix. Hemp, almond, and hazelnut milks are my personal favorites. Make sure you purchase an unsweetened variety, as hidden sugars in many alternative milk products contribute to weight gain/imbalance. Adding avocado or hummus to sandwiches or salads as a cheese substitute will also satiate that creamy "fix" without the added saturated fats from cow's milk.

Here are couple of healthy recipes to get you started with new eating habits (you needn't be a seasoned cook to make these, I'm certainly not one)...

Quick and Easy Quinoa Porridge (a fantastic breakfast option, much better than eating nutritionally void, processed cereals)

¾ cup cooked quinoa
½ cup unsweetened plant milk (almond, hemp, etc)
1 tbsp maple syrup or sprinkling of stevia
handful of berries/apples/bananas etc
2 tsp raw walnuts

Sprinkle of cinnamon and/or nutmeg

Combine quinoa, plant milk, syrup (or stevia) and berries in a small saucepan and place over a medium low heat. Once the mixture comes to a boil, turn it down to a simmer and allow it to cook for about five minutes or so or until the porridge has thickened a bit and is heated through.

Stir in walnuts and top with cinnamon and nutmeg… Enjoy!

Sassy's Spicy Hummus

3 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 cans chick-peas, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup well stirred tahini (tahini is sesame seed paste, an awesome alternative to peanut butter, and very rich in calcium
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 3 inch pickled jalapeno

Mince and mash the garlic to a paste with the salt. In a food processor purée the chick-peas with the garlic paste, the tahini, the lemon juice, and 1/8 cup of the oil. Make sure to scrape down the sides so all the ingredients get processed.You may choose to add 1/4 cup of water to thin the hummus. You may also use some of the pickling juice to thin the hummus (I prefer to use the juice myself). Process the hummus until smooth and add salt if necessary. Transfer the hummus to a bowl. On the stove, heat 1/8 cup of oil until almost smoking. Once the oil is smoking, turn off the heat and then add the hot pepper flakes. The oil may sizzle. Let the oil cool to room temperature. You may choose to strain the oil, but I prefer to keep the pepper flakes in the oil. Once the oil is prepared, mince the jalapeno. Top the hummus with the jalapeno and chili oil. The hummus and the parsley oil may be made 3 days in advance and kept covered and chilled. Divide the hummus between shallow serving dishes and smooth the tops. Drizzle the hummus with the chili oil and jalapeno. Serve the hummus with the pita wedges and vegetables.

Monday, March 15, 2010

What do you eat, Sarah?

As a Holistic Health Counselor, I'm asked this question a lot. Answering it feels kind of silly sometimes, because my food intake consists of so many different things. And just like everyone else, I have days where I like to joke that I "didn't eat like a health counselor". This, ladies and gents, is because having an obsession with perfection in what you eat is not healthy. Our lives are meant to be lived, and we are meant to enjoy food. The healthiest decision I ever made was to find pleasure in eating, meaning I learned and explored hundreds of healthy new foods and recipes and found it to be an adventure in eating...and I found foods that I could eat all day, and it really wouldn't be a bad thing if I did. Those healthy foods not only gave me a greater variety of things to eat, but actually made me start to feel better. Moods are better, sleep is better, energy better...and I lost 25 lbs while winning the war against my chronic acne. My eyes brightened, nails grew stronger..etc, etc. My adventure in eating lead to a pot of gold (ie feeling and looking pretty awesome).

For clarification as to what I eat, I live by this smart and easy quote of Michael Pollan's "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." For further clarification on that, I stay away from animal foods most of the time, try to ensure I eat dark, leafy greens every day, and eat an abundance of vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, seeds, and sprouts. The thing is, there are so many types of plants that the world of recipes involving vegetarian food is limitless. Do I have steak now and then? Yes, I do. Normally it's if I'm at a friend or family function, and if I know that the cow had a happy life (you can know that mainly by looking for "grass-fed" on the label); meaning it was raised eating grass, in the sunshine, on the pasture with a farmer that sincerely cared for the animal's well being. I still am not a fan of eating meat, but every now and then I will eat it, if it is what is offered to me (graciousness is a virtue, for goodness sake). The main factor of importance is the quality of the meat. The body and chemical composition of an animal raised as nature and God intended it is completely different from that of an animal who was stuffed in a crowded, filthy, metal box of a warehouse that never saw sunshine. Think about it.

Abstaining from dairy products has brought an abundance of health to my life, but that's for next post ;)

For now, with Spring officially here, one of the greatest gifts we can give to our bodies is to start enjoying many, many leafy greens and fresh spring vegetables. Our bodies naturally desire lighter fare to get ready for the warmer weather, and to keep those spring allergies at bay. A great green to get on your next store run is kale. Kale is packed with calcium, folic acid, vitamins A & K, and potassium (to name a few perks). You can massage it with lemon juice and a pinch of sea salt for a healthy salad base, water sautee a little and throw on some pine nuts and olive oil, or throw it in a smoothie for easy, breezy assimilation of the vitamins.

Greater health begins with small steps and an open mind. When will your adventure start? Try something new today, your body will thank you. You've got what it takes, so take care.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Good Hair

Last Friday, my boyfriend was kind enough to be open to renting Chris Rock's latest documentary, Good Hair. I had been aching to see it ever since Chris did publicity for the film on Oprah. Besides having a celebrity crush on Mr.Rock (I have a weak spot for people who make me laugh), I found the film a fascinating look into the world of African-American hair-styling. It was like someone drilled a hole into a world I've never had the opportunity to enter. It also really made me think about women in general, and the booming industries that capitalize off of making us feel like we won't look acceptable, pretty enough, or good enough if we don't use their products to tan, straighten, boost, whiten, bleach..and so on.

For those of you not yet familiar with the film, Chris was compelled to investigate the world of chemical straighteners, prosthetic hair pieces, and so on when his darling four-year-old girl came home one day and asked him: "Daddy, why don't I have good hair?"

Knowing very well that there was nothing wrong with his beautiful daughter's hair, and feeling a bit rattled, the proud pop began his investigation. The end result is a film worthy of a girl's night in, to laugh about as well as stimulate healthy conversation.

Why are the majority of women so involved with their looks, that we practically glue ourselves to our mirrors? And when did stick-straight, shiny hair become the look that most women lust after? Although the documentary focuses on African-American hair, the majority of women I know (from many different races) spend hundreds of dollars and countless hours with serums, potions, lotions, conditioners, and $200 straightening irons (the most popular of which is called Chi, which is a little ironic to me).

Don't get me wrong ladies, I don't think you should stop doing your hair, shaving, or wearing make-up (if those are things that you enjoy doing). If someone walks in dressed to the nines, I'm not going to turn my nose up at her for spending time to look her best. There's nothing wrong with looking your personal best, but it needs to be your authentic personal best, and something that makes you feel good. If you're seriously obsessing over trying to look like a certain celebrity, or that pretty girl that stole your ex, you're not going to be happy. Trying to look like someone that you're not isn't going to get you anywhere, and only lead to unhappiness.

Find a feature about yourself that you like, play it up. Accept the things you can't change. I know that doesn't sounds easy, but working on self-love day by day will be make a world of difference in your personal life. And if there's something you don't like, and you know you can change it, then honey, change it! Just keep in mind where the inspiration for the look your going for is coming from. It's fine to experiment and have fun with style, but don't make it your only priority. Never scold yourself or beat yourself up over what you may view as short-comings. When you find yourself slipping into this pattern, call a close friend who you know will make you feel better with his/her upbeat outlook on life. Can't think of any friends who are like that?.. sounds like it's time for new friends (which is a whole other post on it's own).

Also, consider what you're trying to fulfill when your find yourself revolving your thoughts around your mirror image. Did someone tell you something, whether it be long ago, that made you feel like you simply weren't good enough? Is there something in your life that's less than ideal somewhere in your career, relationships, physical activity or spirituality? In my personal experience, I'll stare at my pores and think about how my face could look better when there's actually something else going wrong. Humans tend to use superficial distractions to take their focus away from conflict happening in the bigger picture. Recognize and honor your humanity, then shift your energy to your deeper needs.

The most beautiful women I've ever met are women with meaningful beauty. Women that radiate life, love, and respect for others. There is nothing more attractive then someone with a genuine smile. Having positive energy will not only make you feel better, but attract others that are positive to want to be around you.

The power of inner beauty is immeasurable. You've got what it takes, so take care.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Itsy-Bity, Teenie-Weenie

Spring is right around the corner. The trees are ready to bud, the skies will open with rain (like we haven't had enough of that bounty), and the sun will (hopefully) start coming out to play, giving us good old Vitamin D to boost our moods while kissing our skin to liven us up a bit.

With all of this loveliness awaiting us in the coming days, there's also a little looming demon that can posses a woman; a stress that can cause her to rip her hair out, cry, scream, binge, feel completely uneasy with herself and question her own worthiness...

Swimsuit Season.

I would be lying if I said it was my favorite thing to dwell on. I have a woman's body, and in this media-saturated society, even a healthy woman's body can seem less than ideal when clad in a wee one-piece and paraded around in the afternoon daylight. No matter what size you are, we all have self-conscious (self-obsessive?) tendencies when thinking about the majority of our flesh on display for the general public.

This being said, I think it's time for a new year. For everyone. Not only should we start going easy on ourselves for what we cannot change, we should start going easy on ourselves for what we can change.

What I mean by this is that by recognizing and applying positive, healthy changes that will gradually make our bodies look and feel better is the key to a new swimsuit season...actually, a new swimsuit life. It's not about going on a fad diet, obsessing over points systems, substituting processed, packaged shakes for meals, working out for hours on end, or taking stress-inducing supplements to "rev up metabolism".

It's about taking time to nourish yourself, honoring your female physique, eating real, whole foods and finding a form of exercise (ie. moving your body) that you enjoy. Dance around for twenty minutes while pretending you're _______ (substitute favorite pop icon here, I prefer Beyonce), and you've gotten some substantial exercise in your day. Grab a friend, and go for a walk before dinner. Actually attend that yoga class you've been curious about for the past three years (whoops, that last one's for me).

The path to healthier living starts with you. Have fun with it. Take some time today to think about what you know you could do in this moment to implement healthy change. It could be stepping away from the computer to take a brisk walk, pouring a glass of water, or grabbing that untouched celery from the back of your crisper that you purchased with the best of intentions (better yet, check it for freshness and walk to the store). Just start now, you'll be so glad you did.

Now that you've started to get the wheels turning in regards to healthier eating, make sure you work on healthier living, too. Grab a notebook and start writing down everything that you are grateful for, and focus on your body. Do you have two legs? Awesome. Eyes that can see the world? Sweet! Can you breathe on your own? Lucky. You get the point. Focusing on our bodies' capabilities will help to foster a new respect for the miracle that is the body electric.

And get started now, because now is all you have. Love your body today, tomorrow, and every day. You've got what it takes. Take care.