Wellness – What Does Wellness Mean to You?

For me wellness is a process, one that I have been working diligently on for the past three years. This quest has taken a considerable amount of time and energy but is well worth the investment. My road to wellness encompasses a balance of physical, emotional, intellectual, social and spiritual components. Balance was something that was sorely missing from my life and my health suffered as a consequence.

Now I prioritize healthy eating, regular exercise and good sleep in order to keep my physical body well and to supply me with the energy required to do all that I need and want to do in my life. My biggest priority is eating a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables with an emphasis on cruciferous vegetables for their disease-fighting, anti-inflammatory properties (Jiang, 2014).

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As someone who carried a lot of stress in the past, I have made managing my stress a priority and I am having great success through acupuncture, meditation and support from a naturopathic doctor and a clinical herbalist who creates custom teas and tinctures for me. In a study on the effects of Ashwagandha root extract (Chandrasekhar 2012) found that it safely and effectively increased a person’s resistance to stress and in doing so improved their perceived quality of life. I am now calmer and much more resilient to stress which has built up my emotional wellness.

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I consider myself very fortunate to have a supportive and loving husband. His encouragement in all that I do gives me the foundation and security to step out of my comfort zone and follow my dreams. I would describe myself as primarily an introvert who is social, to a point. I enjoy being with friends but need a lot of alone time to recharge. I have gotten much better at taking the time I need and saying no to things when I know they could compromise my feeling of well-being. I used to say “yes” to everything and everyone else, but I have learned that I need to say “yes” to myself first and to the things that are of the greatest priority at the time. I’ve realized that it’s not selfish but sensible to do so! Since I started my Master’s program in nutrition I have enjoyed building relationships with fellow students who share similar interests and passions and I appreciate the sense of community at MUIH which has greatly enriched my social wellness. Returning to school has also been an exciting time intellectually. I have always enjoyed learning but doing so in this new college setting is proving to be more challenging (in a good way) and inspiring.

However, since returning to school I have made less time for yoga, which I miss greatly. I know that I would benefit from the physical aspects of a yoga practice as well as the meditative and spiritual aspects. This is definitely an area I need to work on and find a way to add back into my life in a manageable way. Given that it is increasingly challenging to find time to attend a yoga class, creating my own home practice would be a great solution. (Ross 2012) found that the frequency of a home practice had a greater impact on health and well-being than simply the amount of time a person has been practicing yoga or how many formal classes they take. The benefit appears to come from including healthy habits like a yoga practice into your daily life, which in turn helps you to include and maintain other healthy habits.

School has also limited the amount of time I can spend with good friends. I am thankful that they are understanding and supportive of what I am doing and that they appreciate the importance of my school work and my need to prioritize it. I see this as an unavoidable side-effect of my current situation and I will make every effort to connect with them between trimesters. Meanwhile, I use my long commute time to catch up by phone. Despite these current challenges I am eternally grateful for the life I have and believe that practicing gratitude on a daily basis enhances my feeling of wellness. (Lyubomirsky 2011) found that expressing optimism and gratitude increase well-being. The greatest success arose when participants understood, believed in and committed to the practice.

Since I have been working on building my wellness, I have gained a greater sense of control over my own health and well-being. Changing my diet, taking better care of myself and following my passion have all led me to a greater feeling of satisfaction. I feel empowered by all that I have learned and continue to learn. I have taken charge of my own wellness and I am reaping the benefits of doing so. I know this will be a continual journey and there will be challenges along the way (such as school is at the moment), but I am committed and know that I can manage them through awareness, recognition and constantly striving for balance.

How does wellness show up in your life? Do you feel like you have the balance you need? Where and how could you create more balance to enhance your wellness?

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REFERENCES

Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., Anishetty, S. (2012) A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of Ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine 2012;34:255-62

http://www.ijpm.info/text.asp?2012/34/3/255/106022

Jiang, Y., Wu, S.-H., Shu, X.-O., Xiang, Y.-B., Ji, B.-T., Milne, G. L., … Yang, G. (2014). Cruciferous Vegetable Intake Is Inversely Correlated with Circulating Levels of Proinflammatory Markers in Women. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 114(5), 700–8.e2.

http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2013.12.019

Lyubomirsky, S., Dickerhoof, R., Boehm, J. K., & Sheldon, K. M. (2011). Becoming Happier Takes Both a Will and a Proper Way: An Experimental Longitudinal Intervention to Boost Well-Being. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 11(2), 391–402. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0022575

Ross, A., Friedmann, E., Bevans, M., & Thomas, S. (2012). Frequency of Yoga Practice Predicts Health: Results of a National Survey of Yoga Practitioners. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 2012, 983258. http://doi.org/10.1155/2012/983258

Sweet Dreams

Sweet Dreams

My husband has said many times, that he doesn’t think I slept for 10 years! Yikes! I’m not sure how totally accurate his 10 year estimate is, but anything even close to that scares me to think about. How did I survive? Looking back, I honestly don’t know! bed-890579_640 In my particular case, I blame stress and out of balance hormones for my decade of lost ZZZZs. Stress and hormones are a bit of a vicious cycle. Out of balance hormones can cause you to sleep poorly, leaving you tired and less able to cope with everyday life and therefore lead to stress. Stress can disrupt the delicate balance of hormones in your body, leading to poor sleep and other symptoms. So it’s a bit of a chicken and egg question as to which came first? I wonder if my out of balance hormones led to poor sleep and therefore stress or was it my stress that caused the hormonal crazies in the first place?! I may never know, and at this point, knowing isn’t as important as making sure it never happens again.

If I knew then!

I just wish I knew then how important sleep is to the body. Of course, I knew it wasn’t ideal to sleep as poorly as I did, and I wasn’t happy about my sleeping issue, but somehow I got by and learned to live with it. It became my “new normal”. Certainly over the years I tried to solve it and did make some good progress in latter years, but not before it took its toll.
Not only does it feel good to get a good night’s sleep but your good health depends on it!
While you sleep your amazing body is hard at work repairing cell damage, reducing inflammation, detoxifying and keeping your immune system strong. If you’re not getting the right quality or quantity of sleep your body cannot achieve all it needs to do to keep you in tip top shape. For me personally, I think my poor sleep contributed to my poor health. I’m not saying I got breast cancer just because I didn’t sleep, but I do believe that my immune system was compromised because of it. No one thing gives you cancer, I think of it as a “perfect storm” and for me I truly believe that my decade of lost sleep put me in a vulnerable situation and gave disease an opportunity and an “in”. Please don’t make the same mistake! I would love to save anyone the pain of dealing with a health crisis and so I’m getting on my wee “soap box” here and pleading with you all to prioritize your sleep.

Tips for a better nights sleep!

  • Commit to an amount of sleep and back out your bedtime from there. The recommended sleep range for adults is 7-9 hours. It might seem like a huge deal to go from 5 hours to even 7 hours, so try adding a ½ hour each night for a week and then another ½ hour the next week and build up. The key is to start and the goal is to re-set your body clock so that you have a regular bedtime and wake time.
  • Your bed is for sleep and romance only! NOT for watching TV, computer use and playing Words with Friends. You know who you are ;)
  • Treat your bedroom as a Sanctuary. De-clutter and create a calm peaceful environment conducive to a good nights sleep. Don’t keep work by your bed or stacks of papers or files in the bedroom. These things distract the mind and create a negative vibe in what should be a peaceful oasis.
  • Plan ahead. Try not to eat too close to bedtime as your body will be too busy digesting when it should be relaxing and repairing.
  • Wind down with a nice cup of tea (you know I’m a big fan). I always have a cup of chamomile tea in the evening, but I try to have it 90 minutes before bed, so that I’m not running to the bathroom during the night.
  • Dim the lights. Turn off bright or overhead lights later in the evening. Soft, lamplight will help you to relax and wind down readying you for sleep.
  • Orange is the new blue! If you’re using your computer or phone in the evenings, surfing the web, catching up with all your Facebook friends or shopping then be sure to download a screen-dimming app. I admit this is part of my nightly routine, so I totally get it. My solution is the f.lux app that dims and warms my screen with the evening. You simply tell it where you are in the world, and it does the rest! This way, you avoid staring at the sleep disrupting blue light that tricks and confuses your body into thinking its daytime.
  • Quiet time. Create at least 30 minutes of quite right before bed. This means, turning the TV off and no more screens.
  • Buzz kill! Don’t drink caffeine too late in the day. Even if you’re one of those people who think caffeine doesn’t stop you from getting to sleep, it can disrupt your sleep. I’m a bit hardcore on this, and think stopping caffeine by noon is ideal, but if you’re trying to make a change here, start by backing up your last caffeinated drink gradually over a couple of weeks.
  • Blackout! Sleep in a dark, quiet room. All those little lights that are on everything these days seem intense when you’re lying in the dark and can also cause sleep disruption. I went around my bedroom and used electrical tape (opaque and comes in lots of colors) to cover any offenders. Black out shades are a great way to keep streetlights or that full moon out of your bedroom, but a quick, easy solution is to sleep with an eye-mask (which I do when I’m in a hotel room).
  • Cool it! Studies show that in general the ideal temperature for sleep is quite cool, around 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures too much lower or higher than this can cause restlessness. Temperatures in this range facilitate the decrease in core body temperature that in turn initiates sleepiness and help you drift into bliss.
Whatever your reason, or dare I say “excuse” in some cases for not getting an adequate amount of sleep, I’m here to tell you, you need to find a way to fix it. Good sleep is the foundation of good health and needs to be a priority. I often hear people say, “I can get by on 4-5 hours of sleep” like that’s a cool thing. Well, it’s not. I know life is busy and full and some days you just don’t know how you’ll get it all done. What seems to happen for many people is that sleep is very much at the bottom of the priority list and basically gets whatever (little) time is left. Sleep well and you will give your body the tools it needs to fight for you. How’s your sleep? Do you struggle with getting to bed on time? Have you found the perfect formula for a restful night? Please share below and sweet dreams to you all! email_signoff1

Balancing Act!

stones-944145_1920 As this is my first health/nutrition post since finishing “Cups of Prevention” I thought this would be a good time to step back and take a more global look at what the secret to good health and disease prevention is.

Balance

No one thing brings good health. No one food will keep you well! No one supplement will keep disease at bay. It is a combination of elements that create the magic. I’d love to introduce you to one of the most important concepts I believe I learned in my program with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. This concept is “Primary Food” and “Secondary Food”, the brainchild of Joshua Rosenthal, the school’s founder. Drumroll please!

Primary Food

  • Relationships
  • Career
  • Exercise
  • Spiritual Practice

Secondary Food

  • The physical food we eat.
The first time I heard this concept, I was hooked! How much sense does this make? A lot! Let’s explore Primary Food. As human beings we are multi dimensional and require the right combination of things to be “working” in our lives in order to be truly happy and consequently, healthy.

Relationships

Maybe you’re not in one or maybe you’re in an unhappy relationship or marriage. Maybe you don’t have a good support network of friends or family around you and feel isolated and alone. A response to this might be that you come home from work to an empty house or a house full of negative energy and a trip to the fridge for a big tub of dip to help that big bag of potato chips taste even more comforting is top priority. Later on you find yourself reaching into the freezer for the tub of ice cream. These “tubs” of junk are often a substitute for the relationship that’s missing or not working in your life. On the flip side, remember those early days when you were head-over-heels in love? You were so excited, giddy and high on love that you didn’t even feel hungry. Love was nourishing you and feeding you in every sense of the word!

Career

Maybe your job is a source of stress and anxiety and you dread going to work everyday and especially on a Monday morning. You live for weekends and vacation and the day you might retire. You might be the boss, feeling overwhelmed by all the responsibility that comes with that role, or you may hate your boss and the way he or she treats you. Many people feel trapped in a job they hate because of money, opportunity or fear of change. Whatever the issue is, all the kale in the world won’t make you healthy and happy if you’re miserable 8-10 hours of the day! An important note here is that a satisfying career may also be a hobby you’re passionate about, an artistic endeavor, volunteer work that you love or anything that gives you purpose and satisfaction.

Physical Activity

Maybe you exercise ALL the time perhaps even to an extreme, fighting thoughts or beliefs that you are never quite thin enough or quite perfect enough. Alternately, you may resist exercise altogether either because you simply don’t like it, think you don’t have the time for exercise or feel insecure about your abilities. The old “use it, or lose it” phrase comes to mind here. We need to move our bodies to maintain our strength and balance as we age. Not to mention the benefits of a boost in energy and feel good hormones that comes from exercising. Finding the right kind of exercise for you, whether it’s running, walking with a friend, yoga or weight work is essential. The key is to find something you enjoy and will stick with.

Spiritual Practice

A spiritual practice can mean so many different things to different people. For some, it’s going to church or their chosen place of worship and belonging to that “family” who offer support and comfort when needed. For others their spiritual practice might be found on the yoga mat or meditation pillow. Some may find it communing with nature, by looking up at the leaves on the trees or the stars in the sky. There’s no one-way to define this, but on some level we all need to feel “at one” with something. We are spiritual beings in a material world and as such, we need to feel a sense of connection to something or someone greater than ourselves. I just think this all makes SO much sense.
If any of these Primary Foods are waaaay out of balance, then chances are our Secondary Foods will be too. We often use food to fill voids, comfort ourselves and to help us de-stress.
The way to create balance is to first of all determine what area or areas of your life are actually out of balance. Only then can we begin working on bringing them back into the balance we need for true well-being. I had quite a bit of work to do myself around this :) but have made good progress and continue working on this everyday. Of course the food we eat plays a vital role in our health and well-being, but these primary foods are a way to nourish and feed ourselves on a deeper level. One does not exist successfully without the other. True health comes from balance in all these areas of our lives. How is your balance? Are you working on a certain area and how are you doing with it? Share below so we can all support each other to make positive changes. email_signoff1_name

Temporary Haze

September is one of my favorite months of the year...

I love the beginning of the cooler weather, beautiful light and calmer pace that comes as summer winds down and fall begins. However, September will forever be changed for me. I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in September 2012. Now, I associate it with the month of the year that changed my life forever. In those early days of diagnosis, I felt like I was in a haze. Despite what was happening to me, I felt like time almost stood still, and things were moving slowly around me. I can remember vividly the way I looked at things differently. I drove slowly (SO not like me). I looked at every leaf on the trees, every ripple on the water, every cloud in the sky with intention and appreciation for their beauty. Daily_Measures_Temporary_Haze

I felt like my life had come into full focus.

I was seeing everything more clearly and in some cases, seeing things I hadn’t paid much attention to before. I remember how differently I interacted with people. Everyone, from my husband to friends, loved ones, acquaintances, doctors, nurses and (maybe even more so) strangers. I slowed everything down and instead of my usual hurrying around, trying to fit a million things into my life. I took the time to chat a little longer, engage in a conversation with a complete stranger in a shop and always felt richer for the experience.
At a time when I might have been thrown into panic, I almost found myself at peace.
Now, don’t get me wrong…I was dealing with a new cancer diagnosis and I was shocked, terrified and afraid, but despite that, it offered me an awakening of sorts, and a strange sense of peace and calm. I felt like I was moving through life in a different dimension than everyone else. I clearly remember thinking to myself…if I am fortunate enough to live through this experience, I want to remember this feeling and try to hold onto it for the rest of my life. I want to live the rest of my life feeling this way. Slowing down, appreciating the beauty in life and seeing the good in everything. There are many days I have to remind myself of this promise I made to myself, as I try to fit too much in my day. As I have recovered and heal I admit that I have gotten back to a different pace. However, I reconcile this by acknowledging what a great idea it was to hold onto that feeling forever, but now that I am three years out from those early days of diagnosis, I have decided that it is OK to find a balance not to forget, but still to be able to live my new life fully and usefully. I can’t stay in a state of “slow” forever and achieve all the things I want to (which I’ll get to later). So I try to remember, appreciate and hold onto just enough of that feeling but not allow it to hold me back from living this wonderful new life.

I would encourage everyone to try to create a temporary “haze” for themselves.

Maybe its just for an hour, a day, a weekend or even a week! Don’t wait till you find yourself in a crisis and are forced to look at life as though it may be slipping away from you before you had fully embraced, appreciated and lived it. Have you experienced your own Temporary Haze? If you’d like to share, we’d love to hear. email_signoff1