A Spa Massage

I have a regular massage therapist who works with me therapeutically, who knows my tension areas and postural habits well so as to best help me release and heal. I am vacationing in Mexico this week with my family and the hotel includes a massage with our stay. I don’t usually patronize spas as I have found the massage is often hit or miss. I prefer the person who knows me and my body. I also like to support people who are working on their own and not companies who pay the therapist a very small percentage of the (usually higher) cost of the massage (tip well if you go to a spa!). But since I am here, need a massage and it’s included, I decided to have one.

It is a beautiful space. Relaxing and quiet, candles and aroma therapy, a fountain and soft, orange light. I am having a half an hour back massage. I assumed it would be clothes on, on a massage chair but it turns out to be on a table, warm pillow on my low back, oil with lavender, eucalyptus and bergamot. I don’t mean to make her uncomfortable, but I say that I too do massage and she says, “Oh, you do? I hope you like my work.” “I will”, I say. And I do.

She gives a wonderful massage. Even though I am on vacation my body is sore and tense. It comes along with us, doesn’t it? First, with the sheet over me, she rocks my body, pressing into the long muscles along my spine. She leans into the large leg muscles and presses her thumbs along the inner arches of my feet. Next, she gently rubs oil all along my back and down my arms. She works circularly which feels wonderful as well as long, broad strokes, warming up and softening the tissue. As the massage progresses, she begins to use deeper pressure with her thumbs and fingers. She slides her lower forearm the length of my back and walks the tips of her elbows between my shoulder blades, inbetween my ribs like stairs. After this I don’t much remember her other techniques as I entered the semi-aware state of deep relaxation one achieves during an excellent massage. She closed the session by ringing tiny symbols three times.

Since I had not come to her with a specific issue nor had she even asked for an area of focus, I just lay there enjoying being touched. I was struck by how important human to human touch is. So much so that we that we offer it to each other as a service. Some of us go to school to learn massage techniques, anatomy and physiology, and it’s many, far reaching benefits. Then, other people, in search of healing, relaxation and connection seek us out and pay us, with their hard earned money, for this important, essential even, component to human health. Across the board, massage therapists train in this skill to bring benefit to others, whether it be an ongoing therapeutic relationship, or just this one time encounter. Sometimes we just offer touch to each other. As simple as a hand shake, a pat on the back, an arm around a shoulder, an embrace. We offer touch to each other when we are overjoyed, sad, reflective and overwhelmed. Without any training at all, we offer each other massage to alleviate pain or promote relaxation, usually in the form of shoulder and foot rubs.

As I lay on the table, I could feel the strong bone of her forearm along my muscles and across my rib bones. More accurate, I could feel the flesh between us. Layers of skin and fat and muscle, which given the right amount of pressure, not too little so as to have little effect and not too much as to cause pain, create a primal connection. Allow the nervous system of the recipient to let go into the vulnerable state of deep healing, the mind to drift away on clouds of relaxation and the muscles to soften and unwind, releasing patterns of stress, hardship and pain that come with being human.

I have worked on many people for many different reasons: fibromyalgia, chronic headaches, acute pain, chronic tension, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, depression and anxiety, body image issues, post miscarriage and pre-and post birth, high blood pressure and many other reasons. I have been therapeutic and holistic in my approach. I have created a safe and comfortable environment. I have put care, skill, training and intuition into each session I have given. I am proud of that.

I am also humbled. From this 30 minute encounter, with a massage therapist who did not know any of my patterns, conditions or needs, I found great healing. It takes presence and attention to care for one another. It takes intentional touch and quiet listening to feel connected. It takes each other to fully heal. We heal, we regain wholeness, we come back to center in the presence of one another. And it takes very little.

As a massage therapist, I hope that you include massage regularly in your self-care. I have seen its numerous benefits and effects and wish it was not considered a luxury or privilege but was available to everyone. We all need it. But whether you do or don’t, I invite you to be a presence for someone. To listen quietly with your ears or touch or intuition. To put your full attention on someone who is in need of some compassion and connection. However this looks for you, however you do it, however you are for others. Or if you are the someone in need, to ask for it. Reach out for the healing connection that is another’s touch, listening, presence.

Let’s be present for each other, friends. Let’s heal the world one person at a time.

Advertisements

Epic Summer Salad

For the past week or so I have been craving a particular salad that I used to eat almost daily when I was in massage school, over 7 years ago. It was packed with vegetables, had a delicious creamy dressing and lots of salad “treats” (aka cheese, bacon and nuts. The fatty, yumminess that make salads so much more enjoyable!). As I prepared the salad the other evening, I was impressed with what an incredibly nutrient-dense salad it was! No wonder I ate it every day while I was learning to do bodywork, receiving so much body work (huge benefit of going to massage school, by the way!) and embarking on a new career path. Whenever we are in transitions, learning new things, changing and growing in whatever ways, nourishing ourselves is essential. While it doesn’t take away the toll that the excitement, fear, and uncertainty that times of change, even positive change, inevitably bring, it prepares the body to better handle these situations. It helps stabilize the mood, improve the brain chemistry, more efficiently moves the waste product of stress hormones out of the body and keeps the immune system strong.

You will notice we paired our power salad with a locally made kombucha. This one was packed with beneficial bacteria for the gut that improves immunity and digestion, lavender for relaxation and nervous system support and lemons for Vitamin C and alkalizing.

This meal has nutrients that will boost brain function, improve gut health, maintain your energy level and sustain your satiety, all very important in helping us ride the waves of change in our lives.

Bon apetite!

Epic Summer (or really anytime) Salad

1 head of organic lettuce, chopped – (excellent source of fiber)

1 organic bell pepper, chopped – (support immune system function)

1 organic carrot, chopped or shredded – (high in antioxidants)

1/2 organic red onion, chopped – (improve bone density when eaten daily)

1 avocado, chopped – (helps the body absorb important nutrients)

3/4 cup kalamata olives, chopped – (protect against cancer)

1/2 cup raw blue cheese – (balance blood sugar)

4 strips of organic, pasture raised, nitrate-free bacon – (Omega 3 fat is anti-inflammatory)

1/2 “crispy” walnuts” (click for recipe) – (brain food!)

Dressing:

Combine and shake well or blend.

1/4 c organic extra virgin olive oil – (helps balance cholesterol)

2 TBS balsamic vinegar – (improves digestion)

1 TBS organic stone ground mustard – (anti-inflammatory)

1 TBS Grade B maple syrup – (over 80 different minerals!)

2 TBS whole fat, organic yogurt – (beneficial bacteria for your gut!)

1 clove of garlic – (great for healthy bloody vessels)

Holiday Eating: Keeping It Real

Family All Together At Christmas DinnerMany people, including myself, find the holidays to be the most challenging time in terms of eating whole, real food. Cookies and candy, cakes and pies, breads and stuffing, and processed and packaged foods all abound. It is often challenging both internally (our own thoughts, emotions and cravings) and externally (social pressure and expectations) to avoid the foods that aren’t good for us.

The trouble with refined flours and sugars

While there has been much focus over the past few decades on Americans reducing their fat intake, there is a major culprit of our current health crises of obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease: refined flours and sugars. Compounding this, refined foods have been added to “low fat” foods to make up for the lost taste. This has resulted in us eating a lot more of these refined products which are hidden away in unassuming foods, in addition to regular availability of baked goods, pastas and cereals.

These foods are turned into sugar molecules at an abnormally fast rate compared to whole grains and even unrefined sugars (such as maple syrup, honey, and molasses). This sparks a sharp increase in the hormone insulin, which triggers the body to store fat leading to weight gain. Over time, this exhaust the body’s insulin response to the point where diabetes develops. When we eat a whole food, the insulin response occurs slowly and normally and is buffered by the protein, fat and fiber contained in that unrefined food. Refined flours and sugars also play a apart in decreasing immunity and disturbing hormonal balance by placing stress on the adrenal glands. These foods are treated with harmful chemicals, such as bleaching factors, many of which are cancer-causing. Finally, these foods pack a lot of calories for very little nutrient content. Eating refined foods on a regular basis is a recipe for weight gain, illness and inflammation.

Keeping It Real During the Holidays

Bring whole, real food: Often at this time of year, we are asked to bring something to holiday parties. This is a great opportunity to make and bring a dish that is full of whole, real food. A soup or big green salad is a great way to go. While you are there, fill up on whatever whole food is available, including what you brought, before deserts are brought out and avoid or eat small amounts of refined flours like pastas and breads. If you are asked to bring a desert, you can often substitute cane sugar for a healthier option like honey, maple syrup or coconut sugar, for example. You can also make fruit tarts or pumpkin or sweet potato pie, which are healthier than most alternatives, especially when made at home.

Eat before you go: If you are going to a party where you know it will be mostly foods that are refined, eat a healthy meal before you go. Eat some fat, protein and colorful vegetables. If you are less hungry before arriving you are more likely to skip or eat less of the junk.

Eat fat and protein first: If you know you will be eating sweets, be sure to eat a snack or meal with plenty of fat and protein just before. This will slow the absorption of the sugars and provide a more normal insulin response, taxing your body less.

Eat your favorites: In the dish of candy, on the plate of cookies or the assortment of pies, take only your favorite. Sometimes, we have a tendency to eat sweets just because they are there. Choosing and enjoying your favorite treats brings the pleasure of a favorite taste and reduces the sense of “forbidden food”, which can often sabotage our efforts to pass on the junk food all together.

Set an intention, write it down, post it where you can see it: The holidays can be stressful and we can be easily distracted from our personal goals, intentions or established healthy habits. If you want to lose or maintain weight over the holidays, avoid getting a cold or flu, maintain your energy or any other health objectives you have, it can be very helpful to write it down and post it somewhere you will see it often. I find it most effective to chose one goal to focus on over the holidays and to record the “why” and the “how”.

For example, this year I want to feel less sluggish and sick from eating gluten and sugar that I don’t usually eat while I am visiting family and traveling with my toddler. Why? So that I can enjoy their company more and not have to focus on how I am not feeling well. How? I will “graze” less on refined foods such as cookies, candies and breads readily available during the holidays. From this, I can post a note in my car, on my mirror, or on my phone that says “I am energetic and present.” This may be enough to remind me of the “how and why” but if not I can add a few other inspiring words: “I eat foods that make me feel well. I love myself and my family”.  Use whatever language will work to keep your intentions, goals or habits front in your mind during a time where we can easily let them go and regret it later. Some people use humor to remind them, others use inspirational words and still others find that just a word or two is enough.

Trust in your body’s resilience: I remember several years ago watching a BBC documentary on how a heart attack happens. One thing that struck me was how much the body can take before it goes into crisis. Not that we want to test those boundaries, but keep in mind that your body is designed to balance, repair and heal. If you go off course this season, tomorrow, next week and the new year are just around the corner and you can start again.

As always, go easy on yourself: To quote the Indigo Girls, “It’s only life after all!”. If you return to old habits or go against your intentions this holiday season, give yourself a break. It happens to all of us and beating ourselves up about it does exactly no good. Notice the value get from these behaviors, be grateful for that value and then pledge  to yourself to make healthier choices from here on out.

Here’s to a healthy and happy holiday season!

Immune Support for the Holidays

There are many things that you can do from a holistic health perspective to give your immune system a boost. It is not a coincidence that when the holiday season is also the cold and flu season. During the fall and early winter, we tend to eat more refined flour and sugar (halloween candy, Thanksgiving pie, and Christmas cookies for example), drink more alcohol and get out of our healthy eating habits. Many of us end up with a cold or flu in January, if not before. By eating foods that boost immune function and making a few healthy lifestyle choices throughout the holidays before, during and after an illness,  you can stay well and continue to celebrate the season with those we love (which is immune boosting in itself!)

FOOD and IMPORTANT NUTRIENTS

Broths and Soups: Homemade broth and soups are one of the most nutritious and immune supportive foods you can eat. They are also frugal, simple to make and can easily be made in bulk and frozen for later use. Here are two easy ways to make homemade broth:

  • Mineral or “Compost” Broth: saving trimming from vegetables that you cut such as onion tops, broccoli stems, celery bottoms, carrot shaving etc, in a bag in your freezer. When it’s full simply place in a large pot with water, add some seaweed (nori sheets are great), bring to a boil and then let gently simmer for 12-24 hours. Add fresh parsley or other favorite herbs about 15 minutes before you take it off the heat. Strain and make soup, drink or freeze.
  • Chicken and Bone Broth: Place a whole, pasture-raised chicken or animal bones in a pot with 2 carrots, 3 celery sticks and a quartered onion. Add splash of apple cider vinegar to release more minerals from the bones and bring to a boil. Skim off any scum that rises to the top and let simmer gently for 12-24 hours. Strain and make soup, drink or freeze. If using a whole chicken, pull the meat from the bones and use for chicken salad for the weeks’ lunches.

Make your favorite soup or just drink like tea. Place broth in containers and freeze for later use.

Fermented Foods: The flora in our gut is essential to our immune health. It is important to have a balance of “good bacteria” in our guts for immune function, digestion, synthesis of B vitamins and much more! Eat foods that are fermented such as raw sauerkraut, kefir, yoghurt, fermented veggies, kombucha and beet kvass which contain probiotics. Most of these products are available at health food stores and are also very cheaply and easily made at home. Purchase Kombucha and Kefir starters at Cultures for Health and check out Sandor Katz’s book Wild Fermentation to make your own fermented veggies. It’s just a little chopping, some salt and some time on the counter!

Many of us need a higher dose of probiotics that we get naturally in these fermented foods because we have taken antibiotic and/or birth control pills or have high stress levels. In this case, I recommend a pill form of probiotics called HMF Forte by Genestra.

Vegetables: Keep eating your vegetables and eat a variety of colors. Vegetables contain many important vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that feed and nourish our cells. A great way to get vegetables in the winter is in soups! Pack your soup full of dark green leafy vegetables, colorful root vegetables and include fresh or dried herbs and spices.

Vitamin D: Most of us are deficient in Vitamin D, which is an important component of our immune systems. The best way to get vitamin D is by direct sun exposure to the skin for up to 20 minutes per day. That is impossible for many of us, especially as the seasons change to happily, there are foods that are rich in vitamin D:

  • cod liver oil (I recommend capsules as they are more palatable but some people do fine with liquid, which is more bang for your buck.)
  • food from animals raised on pasture: eggs, milk, cream, butter and organ meats.
  • cold water, oily fish (sardines, mackerel, salmon) and shellfish

There are products out there, like store bought milk, soy milk, and cereals, that are fortified with Vitamin D that I wouldn’t recommend because it is the wrong form of Vitamin D. We want to eat D3 and you can also supplement with D3, especially if you are very deficient (get a simple blood test from your physician). I recommend Designs for Health D Synergy that contains vitamin K, which helps your body use the D.

Vitamin C: Often when we are sick, we think “Orange juice”! While it does provide vitamin C, it also packs a big sugar punch that can be detrimental to our immune system and healing response. Instead of reaching for the juice, try these whole foods high in Vitamin C: tropical fruits, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cantaloupe, parsley and kale.

Zinc: Another essential nutrient to our immune health is Zinc and we can often be deficient in it. Oysters contain, by far, the highest amount of zinc than any other food. They are often not a favorite so include these foods when well or ill: organ meats, venison, lamb, scallops, sesame and pumpkin seeds, yogurt, turkey and shrimp.

HERBS

Elderberry Syrup: Even your kids will love a teaspoon of sweet elderberry syrup and it’s great both at prevention of illness and support in recovering from illness.

Echinacea: A classic herb for illness. When you feel the tickle in your throat or a sniffle beginning, add a dropper full of echinacea with goldenseal (if not pregnant) to warm tea or a glass of water to stave off illness.

Medicinal Teas: There are a lot of great, organic herbal teas out there that contain echinacea, help with breathing, decongesting and sore throat. My favorites are Traditional Medicinals and Yogi Teas.

LIFESTYLE

Gentle Exercise: Our immune system needs our movement to function well. Unlike the blood, there is no “pump” aka heart to push the lymphatic fluid through our systems. As we swim, walk, do yoga, dance or take Nia classes we help these fluids move through the body and improve the detoxification and elimination of bacteria and viruses our body does.

Sleep: Essential to recovery, restoration and healing, get as much sleep as you can at night. Do your best to eliminate any light coming into your room (street lights, night lights, etc) as these can affect how well you sleep and the important chemicals released to help you heal and repair. Also, turn off all electronic devises, especially those with wi-fi and cellular technology, and ideally leave in another room during the night.

Massage: To prevent or recover from illness, massage is excellent because it increases circulation of fluids in the body including blood and lymph. It will help to improve the efficiency and function of the immune system by moving lymph through the vessels and helping to unclog any stuck nodes. It is also deeply relaxing to the nervous system, which puts you in a state of healing and restoration called “parasympathetic”. Do not receive massage when you are actively sick but just after an illness a gentle swedish, lymphatic massage or cranial sacral treatment can really help to speed the recovery process. Scheduling regular massage will improve your immune function overall.

Do you have any favorite foods, tips or tricks that help you stay well? Share them here! And look for my next post on stressing less and enjoying more during the holidays.

Finding Fitness

teaching Nia in 2004

Perhaps the most important key to incorporating exercise into our lives is finding an activity that we like, or even better, love to do.  I was lucky enough to find The Nia Technique, which most of the time doesn’t even feel like exercise! If you are enjoying yourself as you move your body, you are more likely to exercise. Here is my story of finding a fitness program that worked for me and how it literally changed my life. A version of this article was originally posted here at Nourishing Ourselves:

Nia transformed my life. It healed my depression, it shifted my career path, it gave me community and, oh yeah, it got me in shape.

First, an introduction: The Nia Technique is a holistic fitness program: it engages the body, mind, emotions and spirit in each and every class. It draws from 9 other movement forms (martial arts, dance and body awareness techniques) to create the unique sensation that is Nia. It incorporates free movement and movement on the floor. It creates strength, flexibility, agility, stability and mobility, not just of the body but also of the mind and the emotions. It connects you to your unique spirit and cultivates love, joy and inner guidance. Nia is fully adaptable for all fitness and experience levels, from the person just beginning a relationship with exercise to the person looking for an athletic cardio experience. Nia’s choreography is easy to follow and the moves are based on how the body is designed to move. The music is diverse and engaging. Most importantly, Nia is fun!

I first began practicing Nia in 2001 in Portland, Oregon. I had just moved across the country and committed to getting in shape, despite hating to exercise. I took aerobics and step classes and kept my eye on the slow moving clock during each endless hour. My neighbor invited me to a Nia class and I reluctantly joined her. I was awestruck! The teacher played music by big band legend Louis Prima and I shook and shimmied, sank and rose, kicked and punched, danced and delighted for an hour that felt like 15 minutes. At the end, I noticed that I was covered in sweat and my cheeks hurt from the permanent smile that was plastered on my face for that first, wonderful hour. I couldn’t get every move, nor move as gracefully or fluidly as the teacher, but none of that mattered. Here I was in a space that was about moving my body the way it was meant to be moved, to enjoy doing it and, oh yeah, to get in shape.

A few months later, I was taking classes on a regular basis and found myself crying through entire classes. I didn’t know why I was crying. Usually there was a story in my sad, depressed and gloomy mind that got those tears rolling, but not in Nia. In Nia, I danced and cried and released and let go and felt incredible afterwards. No one tried to fix me or stop me but I got big, knowing, empathetic smiles from these people who already knew the power that Nia had to heal. These tears, this movement of emotional energy, catalyzed by expressive movement and encouragement to listen to my own body, were the first tears on the path out of 10 plus years of clinical depression. Over the ensuing few years, I stopped crying in class on a regular basis, expect when I lost a loved one or an important relationship ended, and my depression finally and forever lifted. Nia became my therapy and opposed to the talk therapy I had been engaged in since I was 12, it actually worked. After years and years of trying to lose weight, be more tone and slender, trying to live up to some outside ideal and hating my body, I was moving because it felt good. I was losing weight, gaining strength and flexibility, and cultivating balance but these once prominent motivators had become secondary: side effects of how much fun I was having, how I was learning to be joyful and how my body, mind and emotions were healing. I was no longer moving my body because I hated it and wanted it to be different than it was. I was moving my body because I loved it and wanted to work with it to create health and balance.

I decided to teach this practice so that I could take it wherever I went and hopefully, touch at least one person the way my teachers had reached me. Before moving to San Francisco in 2003, I took the White Belt training and began my teaching career. Once in San Francisco, I began classes at community centers, gyms and dance studios. I taught hundreds of students in classes, workshops and retreats. The students connected with me and with each other and community formed around our practices. I developed friendships with students and teachers that I cherish to this day. I reveled in the after class confessions of how great this movement felt, how transformed people were becoming and how good it felt to be connected to their bodies in an authentic way again. I wanted more of this. I wanted to know more and to support people on their healing journeys, so I attended massage school and began a private practice. I then became a life coach and finally, a nutrition educator and over 10 years after that first Nia class, I currently work holistically with my clients to support them in making lasting change in their lives. All thanks to Nia.

3 Months pregnant teaching nia in mexico

After I had my daughter (I taught Nia several times a week until I was 7 1/2 months pregnant!) and my business really took off, I decided to take a break from teaching as I couldn’t dedicate the amount of time I wanted to being a Nia teacher. We moved back to Portland, OR and I joined 24 Hour Fitness, much to my chagrin. I had always prided myself on supporting the local studios that taught Nia and I have never enjoyed the machines, weights and “boot camp” classes these types of facilities offer. However, moving my business meant losing my income for a while, so this was an affordable way for me to continue to exercise. When I signed up, the manager sold me on hiring a personal trainer at an introductory rate by talking about the importance of weight training to create lean muscle mass, therefore shifting metabolism, therefore losing fat (which was my goal since I had kept quite a bit of weight on since my pregnancy and felt as if I was living in someone else’s body). I began working with Allison, who helped me fall in love with challenging myself. With her compassionate but firm encouragement, I began to truly enjoy pushing myself to my edges, physically, mentally and emotionally. I lifted weights, used machines, took yoga, regained my balance and healed and strengthened muscles that were affected by my pregnancy and birth.

If you told me 10 years ago that I would be lifting weights and running on a treadmill, I would have loudly proclaimed:”Not me, not ever!” I have Nia to thank for this transformation as well. Over the 10 years of my exercise being exclusively Nia, I learned how good it feels to move my body, to strengthen and balance it and to challenge it. I learned that it feels good to move my body in whatever form that may take. I learned to listen on the days when I should move smaller and closer to my center (Level 1, we call it in Nia) and days when I can really push my boundaries and find new levels of strength and endurance (Level 3), both in my body and my thoughts.

What do you love to do to get your body moving? Walk, run, bike, dance, swim, hike, yoga, Pilates, group classes? If you are the person who doesn’t like to exercise but wants to, a great place to start is childhood. What were your favorite activities as a child? Maybe you were on a sports team, did gymnastics, or just played loved swinging on the monkey bars. In any case, there are activities that translate in the adult world of movement, just a few examples include: adult sport leagues (even kickball!), acro-yoga classes, circus classes for adults, and climbing gyms. The possibilities are endless and your body, mind and emotions will thank you!

Tell us about your journey to fitness, no matter where you are along its path, in the comment section. If you need some support or inspiration, contact me to set up a fitness coaching session and we’ll get you moving!

3 Keys to Create Lasting Change

I recently was interviewed for Joanna Stevens’ blog on nutrition and parenting. She asked me for tips on incorporating healthy foods into children’s diets and ways to create lasting, loving, and compassionate relationships with our kids. The phrasing of her question “…create lasting…” struck me as the most important element of the question. We have so much information about nutrition, parenting and everything else available at our fingertips on the internet, in books and magazines and from friends and family (and sometimes the stranger in line behind us at the grocery store. A personal favorite of mine!). So, why is it that we aren’t all following the advice and information we get that feels right to us ? It’s not for lack of information and its not for lack of trying, that’s for sure!

I decided instead of adding to the plethora of “how-to” tips  available to us that I would answer with some tools we can use to make lasting changes in our lives, no matter what we are wanting to change. The following three practices are what have supported me and many of my clients in the often up-hilll trek of making positive and lasting changes in our health and lives.

1. PLENTY OF TIME – Let’s give ourselves lots of time. It takes time to make lasting changes in our lives. It takes time for our minds and emotions to catch up with what our bodies and hearts are asking us for. Very often, we have such a strong desire to be a new and improved version of ourselves that we attempt to change a whole bunch of habits and behaviors at the same time. I have found that this can be a recipe for failure for many people, that often leads to backsliding or worsening of the habits and behaviors that we are wanting to change. So, first and foremost, I want to encourage all of us to give ourselves lots of time to make changes that we want to have in our lives.

2. REASONABLE, ACHIEVABLE GOALS – We want to have goals (or intentions, as some prefer) that feel doable and easy for us. For example, early in my journey to eating better, I gave myself an entire year to eat only organic produce at home. This goal was very doable for me in this time frame: Knowing that I had a full year to go to new stores, adjust to price increases and develop the internal commitment to this change, made it incredibly easy. During this first year, I didn’t concern myself with, for example, what I ate when I went out to eat nor did I worry about the quality of the animal products I ate during that year (that was the next year’s goal!). I solely focused on crowding out the conventional foods in my kitchen with organic ones until it was just what I did naturally. In the end it took about 8 months and then I moved onto my next goal, eating only pasture-raised animal products , which took even less time (though I gave myself the full year) and overlapped with the produce goal since I was already in new stores and finding new resources.

3. GO EASY ON YOURSELF –  We are where we are for a lot of very good reasons. The decisions we made in the past were important in meeting needs we had then. The reason we want change now is that these things are no longer meeting are needs, or just not well enough. The process of change is uncomfortable because it is revealing what no longer works for us. It is a unique human blessing and curse to be able to see so clearly what we don’t yet have. This is both very helpful, as it can inspire us to make change but it can also hinder us, by creating thoughts and feelings about what we may have done “wrong” in the past or that we are not good enough or should have known/done/changed sooner, etc., etc., etc. We are all familiar with the these loops in our head, aren’t we? Let yourself be okay with where you are and respect the person you were when you made the decisions you made anywhere and everywhere along the way. It has all led you here: to a new place of inquiry, a place with a strong desire to have more of what you want and to improve the health and well-being of yourself and your family. This is something to celebrate, not berate! A side benefit of going easy on ourselves is that it allows us to make mistakes or back slide and then just start again. Inevitably, we are going to fall back into old patterns. And that is okay. Humans are reparable and adaptable, so going easy on ourselves lets us be reparable and adaptable and makes for a happier way of being.

So what do you think? What has worked for you in creating change? I’d love to hear! Please comment below.

Meal Planning

One of the easiest and most important tools we have incorporated into our kitchen is the meal plan.

WHAT IS A MEAL PLAN?
Meal plans come in many shapes and sizes. A meal plan can be created by meal, by day, or by type of food/nutrient (so as to ensure you are including all in your daily eating). People use meal plans to keep track of calories, portion sizes or nutrient content. They can help you organize one or more meals per day, prepare a shopping list and incorporate foods into your diet that you have been meaning to but never have. They can be very simple to very detailed. It all depends on what you want to accomplish.

For us, we were tired of last minute decisions about dinner, made while we were hungry at the end of the day and with often missing or unprepared ingredients. We wanted to save money by eating out less, both at dinner, when the end of the day rolls around and we are too tired to decided what to eat let alone cook, and at lunch without leftovers, dinner out would often mean lunch out the next day.

BENEFITS OF MEAL PLANNING
Save money

  • Now, I shop from a list made from our plan and I don’t deviate, so that has decreased our grocery bill.
  • I’m not guessing about what we will eat. I’m not buying too much food that will go uneaten and wasted.
  • Most recipes are 4-6 servings, so we make the full recipe and then eat the leftovers for lunch.  Neither of us are buying lunch out anymore.

Improve nutrition

  • By mapping out the week’s meals, we can balance foods each day, incorporate healthy fats, proteins, vegetables and grains.
  •  We make sure that we incorporate fish a couple times a week
  • We prepare ahead of time: we can properly prepare our beans and grains, by soaking them in filtered water and a dash of apple cider vinegar overnight or early in the morning.
  • We are almost never eating out and are in full control of the quality of the nutrients we are taking in.

 Save time

  • Since we no longer have a debate each night, we save time by planning our meals only twice a week. It was a little more time consuming when we first started, but now we are a well oiled planning machine and it takes less than 10 minutes.
  • I also save time at the grocery store. I know exactly what I am there for, so I no longer wander around or run back and forth to different departments.

Create ease around mealtimes

  • We know exactly what we are going to eat each day, so instead of debating and deciding at the end of the day, we sit down twice a week and map it out (see more about our process below). My husband and I have limited time together since he works long days, I often work evenings and weekends and we have a toddler. Decreasing the amount of time we talk about logisitical things, like what’s for dinner, gives us more quality time together on a daily basis.
  •  On busy nights, we can choose easy, quick to prepare meals or meals that whichever of us who is less busy that evening enjoy to prepare the most.


OUR PROCESS
We have chosen a very simple process of creating meal plans. If you are interested in creating meal plans to track calories, nutrients or portion sizes, click here for downloadable forms or do a google search for meal planning forms.

Choosing Meals
Twice a week we sit down and choose which meals we will have over the next 3-4 days. What we choose depends on many factors, including: what each evening’s schedule is, what meat we have from our CSA in the freezer, what staples we have, who will likely feel like cooking, what is seasonal, what are our current favorite meals and many others. We eat primarily fresh foods so we do this twice a week and I go shopping twice a week, so that the vegetables, fish and meat aren’t going bad in our fridge. This can easily be done once a week using frozen or canned ingredients to streamline the process further.
As you can see from the photo, we have a reserved section of a white board in our kitchen just for our meal plan. We have chosen the simplest form or meal planning. You can write out your meal plan on a piece of paper or a form and put it on the fridge. No need to buy a fancy board or spend time hanging it!

Creating the Shopping List
Once we have chosen our meals, we use the recipes to create a shopping list. I put only the ingredients that I need on the list. I also have on my whiteboard a list of foods and household products we have out of and need to buy. As soon as we are out of something notice, we write it up there. Then I add that to my meal plan shopping list. Now, I am rarely missing something I need.

You’ll notice that we only plan dinners. We eat breakfast separately and have “staples” in our family. My husband eats his granola, yogurt and fruit every morning and my daughter and I rotate between eggs, oatmeal, pancakes, steamed greens, smoothies, sausage and bacon. So those I add to the “out of” list on the whiteboard as needed. When we make dinner we make a full or double recipe so that we can each eat the leftovers for lunch, often more than once. Another thing we do is make a big pot of soup on Sunday that is solely for lunches, in the case that we don’t have leftovers, like when we have a big salad for dinner.

COMMON CONCERNS
We were worried that we’d wouldn’t want to eat the meal that we had planned, since we were used to just eating whatever we felt like each night. That has only happened now and then and usually it is wanting a meal that is scheduled for another day of that week so we just switch or we go out to dinner. I think there is something about choosing the meals and then seeing them posted on the wall that prepares the mind and body for that meal. I look forward to dinner time now!

I also thought that we would not stick to this and it would be another good idea we let go of. However, we have received so many benefits and it has become so easy to do that we do it religiously. I have come to depend on it to make our food shopping and preparation so much easier.

Other concerns, questions or experience with meal planning? Post in the comment section below.