The Power of Ritual

By: Natasha Uspensky, CHHC

Ritual

In my holistic nutrition practice, I am always talking up the power of creating rituals for eating, wellness, and self-care.  Rituals not only help you to create and stick to new healthy habits, but they can also play a huge role in how full or satisfied you feel after a meal, how effective your meditation practice is, or how relaxing your mani-pedi is.

In some exciting news, a new research study co-authored by researchers at Harvard University and the University of Minnesota will be published in the Journal of Psychological Sciences, proving what I’ve been claiming for ages… rituals matter, and they could mean finally feeling fulfilled, consistently happy, and yes, even dropping those last 10 pounds!  The study showed that when a ritual was performed before eating, thse food tasted better and was more satisfying than when there was no pre-eating ritual. Whether it was a chocolate bar or a carrot, participants who performed a specific pre-eating ritual ate slower, enjoyed the food more, and ultimately felt more full and satisfied after eating (which means they didn’t need to keep snacking!).  Though this study was specific to food, the results can be translated across all healthy behaviors.

Rituals promote mindfulness, a slowing down that brings the action at hand to the forefront of your consciousness.  When simple, everyday activities are given more meaning in this way, they are elevated from mere automatic behaviors to moments of connection, fulfillment, and joy.  The more you feel these uplifting emotions, the less likely you will be to overeat, abuse your body, or skip the activities that fill you with energy and vitality (like exercising and meditation).  Pick rituals to perform around the areas where you struggle — food, sleep, relaxation, exercise, self-care.

Try some of these rituals for yourself, and see what a difference they make!

  • Morning rituals:

    • Sip hot water with lemon right when you wake up.  It’s super alkalizing, hydrating, and just feels great!
    • Meditate
    • Spend some time mindfully making your morning tea or coffee
    • Move your body — some sun salutations feel especially great in the morning
    • Listen to music
  • Rituals before a meal:

    • Say a prayer or a few words of thanks, or sing a little song!
    • Take time to beautifully set your table, even if you’re eating alone!
    • Arrange your food creatively on the plate, garnish it with fresh herbs or other edible adornments, and take a moment to admire your work before digging in.
    • Put on some lipstick, brush your hair, and throw on a fresh, cute outfit before sitting down to dinner.
  • Rituals before meditating:

    • Light candles or incense.
    • Water your plants.
    • Do some stretches.
    • Create your own ritual of bowing to an icon, statue, or symbol that has meaning to you, and saying a few words of intention.
    • TIP:  I am a big fan of having a dedicated meditation space (I use my window sill) where you can arrange these ritual items.  I water my plants, light some candles, gain calming inspiration from my Buddha statue, and only then do I start my practice.
  • Bedtime rituals:

    • Unplug from electronics 30-60 minutes before bed
    • Sip some relaxing tea, like chamomile, kava, or sleepy time
    • Take time for a bathroom pampering ritual
    • Take a hot bath with relaxing essential oils like lavender
    • Slip into something that makes you feel sexy
    • Read a great book
  • Other self-care rituals:

    • Have a weekly, at-home spa ritual.  Put on a face mask, listen to music, take a bath.
    • End your week on a high note by walking home (or getting off the train a few blocks early), taking a ferry, or a different, scenic route while driving home.  Listen to music if it helps you relax and wash off the week.

What are your favorite healthy rituals?  Share them in the comments below!

Beat Cravings and Binge Eating by Dealing With Your Emotions!

Binge-eating-disorder

By: Stephanie Heino

I don’t know about you, but when I felt stressed, had a bad day, or felt sad and depressed I used to go dig in the fridge and binge until there was no more room in that poor tummy. Does this sound familiar? I later learned that this didn’t mean I was starving, instead it was my way of dealing with emotions I didn’t know to handle in any other way. Do you recognize this behavior? I know that this is something more or less all people go through at one point or another in life, but as long as you are able to recognize why you are engaging in a certain behavior, that is also when you can change and let go of the addiction and shed those extra pounds.

My body is amazing at letting me know I’m disconnected from my deeper self. Take last week for example, each day I found myself wanting sugar. And this was not just a moment spent thinking about how nice a piece of chocolate would taste but instead a persistent obsessive thought of all my biochemical signals telling me I needed something to fill me up. Something to fill up the emptiness I felt inside due to stress and family issues. I didn’t give in to the temptation, because I knew that the temporary satisfaction would leave me feeling even worse than how I felt before, so I decided to go to the root of the issue instead of numbing my feelings by engaging in addictive behaviors such as smoking a cigarette, binging, etc.

I am sure you are all familiar with the feeling I am describing, it is not about the issue of starving yourself, nor is it about the hunger that comes from restricting too many calories, this is the type of hunger that starts right back up again once you’ve eaten that piece of chocolate and only transforms when you’ve finished the whole bar. And of course, it doesn’t transform into peace and satiation like you expect. It morphs into an agonizing mix of guilt and shame. Do you know why? Because the actual reason for binging wasn’t that your body needed the chocolate bar, it was just a way for you to deal with the emotions you were feeling at that certain time.

Here are some of the things to look into and explore when you can’t stop the hunger or are craving things that don’t support your highest good. By analyzing your actual feelings and mood instead of reaching for the nearest candy bar, you will eventually thank your self, and so will your waistline. But don’t expect this to take place overnight. You have to be determined to retrain your mind and step away from learned behaviors, either by yourself, or with the help of a professional. If you need support, schedule a free consultation with Holistic Health Counselor Natasha Uspensky to get back on track physically and emotionally. Take a look below and use the affirmations provided the next time you get that intense craving:

drinking-water-promotes-weight-lossThirst. Thirst and hunger originate from the same hypothalamic area in our brain, which makes it easy to get the two mixed up. This means signals can get confused and we can think we’re hungry when really we’re really just thirsty. When we have too little fluid in our bodies it lowers our blood pressure and our body thinks it needs food. Try drinking water and see if it alleviates your hunger before going nuts in the grocery store.

Affirmation: I am in tune with what my body really needs. I fill my body with thirst-quenching water.

nutrition_foodNutrition. When your diet doesn’t have as much nutritious and healthy food as it needs, your body will go into nutritional starvation mode. Don’t confuse this with calorie starving mode. Totally different. Nutritional starvation mode is when your cells are deficient of minerals and vitamins and they cry out for more. However, in a culture where we have grown up being seduced by addictive and processed food it’s hard to understand what our bodies really needs. It is only when you begin infusing your body with life-giving food that you realize what you were hungering for all along.

Affirmation: I feed my body the fuel that energizes and nourishes me in every single cell of my being. My cells receive nutrients rather than toxins to make them feel full and complete.

Check out this chart on what vitamin you might be lacking when craving a certain food!

Stress. Stress is about forgetting everything else but staying alive. Your desires, intentions and good health routines get thrown out the window. You become preoccupied with the state of feeling unsafe and threatened and after your late night at work you opt for take-out, spiking your blood sugars; or you reach for that ice cream to calm your nerves. Stress keeps your sympathetic nervous system active (fight or flight, hello cortisol!) and won’t allow your parasympathetic system to do what it does best: rest and digest. When your digestion is impaired you won’t be assimilating or absorbing nutrients and your body will activate its hunger programs.

Affirmation: I am calm and balanced throughout life’s chaos. The more I rest, the more I digest my experiences for my greater good.

emotional_eatingPleasure and reward. Eating sugar as been shown to release opioids and dopamine in the brain, which rewards us with pleasurable feelings, one of the basic underpinnings of our human drive. When you’re craving sugar, you may really be craving pleasure and reward in your life but you confuse it with actual hunger. It all has to do with the balance within, does your pleasure come from within, or do you feel the need to seek it from external sources like food and other addictions? The same reward pathway is often triggered for all addiction issues. Often we try to mask our pain with external pleasures like I mentioned above. If you go within your sweet cravings you will find parts of yourself feeling bland and joyless which is feelings your are trying to numb. Try go for a walk, take a long hot shower or call a friend, and I promise the craving will fade!

Affirmation: Sweetness is an infinite spring bubbling within me. Who I am is sweet and joyful and abundant I choose to feel and acknowledge the pain within me, rather than mask it, in order to uncover my essential sweetness.

Qi. Qi is the energy of our life force. When it’s not flowing like it is supposed to, we feel tired, deflated and uninspired in life. Our food cravings may be the result of our own sabotage patterns that stop us doing the things that build and rejuvenate our energy within. Instead of consuming the refined sugar that gives us a short and empty kick of energy, what we really need is to refill the well of our inner qi so that it becomes overflowing. Taking a walk in the forest, laughing with friends, doing Tai Chi or charging your chakras (check back next week for a post on balancing your chakras through meditation!) will do more for your qi circulation, bioelectricity (the electric potential across cell membranes) or photonic energy (light) than any cookie ever will.

Affirmation: I rejuvenate my chi until it overflows from my internal well. I seek out the things that light me up and energize me and it feels good and natural to do so.

meditation-2Your soul’s hunger. Your soul always desires to step out of pain and into bliss. Hunger on this level is really about the true hunger of not living a life from the totality of who you are. Your hunger will increase when the distance between how you currently live your life and how you really desire to live it seems too immense. Nothing will fill you up apart from acknowledging and activating your unique brilliance.

Affirmation: I live from the wholeness and the completeness of my being. I am full and inspired across all dimensions of who I am.

Next time you feel the craving of a hunger that can’t be satiated, explore the origins of that hunger before reaching for the peanut butter and chocolate. Your hunger is a complicated beast; present across many aspects of your self. Let your self make peace with the sensations as it guides you lovingly into the wonderful person you are. For me, I soon worked out that my hunger was about too much stress and bad relationships in life. What is your hunger about? Go within to find out!

Here are some reason as to why you might be craving a certain food:

wake upSweets. When you get that intense craving for chocolate, you should stop and evaluate how your sleep has been lately. When tired, many people crave carbohydrates for a quick energy boost since carbs are our main source of fuel. Since simple carbs, such as sugar and white bread, are digested quicker than complex ones such as whole grains and beans, the energy kicks in sooner which makes it “ideal” for an energy booster. Unfortunately that sugar “high” doesn’t last long, and it eventually leads to an inevitable crash making you even more tired. As an alternative, go take a walk. In a University of Georgia study, people who worked out at a low-intensity for 20 minutes reported a 65 percent drop in feelings of fatigue.

Crunchy. A handful of nuts a day can be a healthy snack, but it can also hint to an inner frustration and irritation. The act of chewing and cracking the food in your mouth can momentarily release that angst, but the problem is the second that the crunching stops, the frustration returns — and many people go back to eating more and can end up polishing off an entire bag of chips. Watch out for this! A better way to release that tension is to punch a punching bag or do any kind of exercise, which will release endorphins to boost your mood. Several studies have also shown that relaxing music really does relieve stress.

FrustrationCreamy. Creamy dishes such as ice cream, mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese are called “comfort foods” because they point to worrisome thoughts, when what you really need is to be soothed. These are also high-carb, high-fat foods. Carbs boost the ‘feel-good’ hormone serotonin, and when you eat something high in both carbs and fat, it can trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure and reward. No wonder it is so addicting! While a bowl of ice cream may make you feel better in the moment, usually the worries return when the person realizes how many calories they consumed, and then guilt sets in. So instead of reaching for these fattening foods, trying a warm bath, a foot massage, or just wrap yourself in soft, cozy clothing can provide instant calming.

Caffeine. Anytime the coffee shop or a soda machine calls your name, you’re likely more than just thirsty. You may be tired, or feel discouraged or dissatisfied with your job and reach for these ‘quick fixes’ to perk you up and get you through the day. Does this sound familiar to you? It could also mean you’re dehydrated. Not drinking enough water leads to a lack of energy, so instead of a latte, you may just need some H2O. Try it before reaching for anything else!

Carbs. While cravings for pasta, bread and other carbohydrates can come from a number of physiological reasons, including a high insulin level or low blood sugar, it can also be a result of self-deprivation. When someone is on a strict eating plan or has declared certain foods 0ff-limits, they will want them that much more because they know they are not “allowed”.  Make whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and oats a regular part of your diet to majorly curb the carb cravings!

It is not impossible to change your addictive behavior, you just need to retrain your mind and learn how to deal with your emotions in a way that does not involve food!

[Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]

The Last (and Best) Diet You’ll Ever Need

Thai Sweet Potato Soup

By: Natasha Uspensky, CHHC

The traditional Ayurvedic approach to eating emphasizes when you eat as well as what you eat, and it is literally the best and healthiest key to permanent weight loss, lifelong weight management, and optimum health and digestion.  It points to the body’s ideal time for consuming the biggest meal of the day.. and it’s certainly not when most Americans think it is.

Our bodies are designed to consume the majority of the day’s calories before 3pm, when digestion is the strongest.  This means a balanced breakfast that is nourishing and filling enough to get you through to lunch without feeling hungry (and without needing that mid-morning cup of coffee or snack!).  Our bodies function best when lunch is the biggest meal of the day.  Midday is when our digestion and metabolism are the strongest, and our system is in need of nourishment and healthy calories.  So guess what?  That soup or salad just aren’t going to cut it.  Your typical light lunch is what’s responsible for your late afternoon energy crash, your high hunger levels in the evening, and your struggles with weight!  Making your lunch healthy and dinner-sized is the biggest secret for longterm weight loss, and the end to dieting forever.  This big lunch keeps you full and energized throughout the day, and keeps you from overeating in the evening, which is when calories eaten go directly to your problem areas and contribute to weight gain.  Dinner, or better yet “supper” (sharing the root of “supplemental” or “soup-like”), should be the lightest meal of the day.  Soup is the absolute ideal supper, although a salad is also great.

This way of eating certainly has history and culture on it’s side, being the traditional way of eating for many Eastern cultures, and even much of Western Europe, before eating habits and work cultures were Americanized.  But now, there is also cold, hard scientific evidence supporting it!  A new study recently published in the International Journal of Obesity proves once and for all that eating your main meal of the day in the evening contributes to weight gain.  In the study, a group of 420 overweight men and women were evaluated over five months.  During that time, half the group ate their biggest meal of the day before 3pm, while the other half ate it after 3pm.  Both groups had the same amount of exercise, ate the same amount of calories throughout the day, and got the same amount of sleep throughout the study.  Over the course of the 5 month study, the early eating group lost an average of 22 pounds, while the late eating group lost only 17 pounds.

Further supporting this evidence is a study from the University of Alabama last year, showing that eating higher fat meals in the first half of the day, and a lighter low-fat meal in the second half of the day (see The Key to Sustained Weight Loss) support longterm weight loss.  So here’s how to eat:

  • Eat three meals a day, and don’t snack.
  • Make lunch the biggest meal of the day.
  • Make breakfast big enough to get to lunch without feeling hungry.
  • Make dinner light and “supplementary.”

Even if you change nothing else about your diet, just this shift alone will give you some results!  But of course, for this to be the last and best diet you’ll ever need, you’ll want to make some changes to what you’re eating as well.

  • Eat less meat and dairy, and more low-mercury fish and healthy plant-based fats like nuts, seeds, avocados, and healthy oils.
  • Eat more vegetables!!!  Better yet, eat mostly vegetables!  They are nature’s perfect foods.
  • Eat less processed grains and flours, and more whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, millet and oats.
  • Eat less sugar.  If you need a little sweetness, get it from fruit and healthy sweeteners like stevia or raw honey, all in moderation.

Doesn’t sound so hard, does it?

Want some healthy meal ideas?  Check out What Do I Eat? Healthy Eating is Easier Than You Think!, and our Healthy Recipes database.

Reference:
Garalualet M. International Journal of Obesity, Jan 2013.
Bray M. International Journal of Obesity, Mar 2010

What Do I Eat? Healthy Eating is Easier Than You Think!

how we eat

By: Natasha Uspensky, CHHC

With all the crazy conflicting ideas about what a healthy diet looks like, I’m sure that on more than one occasion you’ve found yourself staring into your fridge, throwing your hands up and asking “What the hell do I eat?!”

I’ll let you in on a little secret. It is SO much easier than you think it is. Healthy eating does not involve slaving in the kitchen for hours on end, calculating complicated ratios and formulas, or resorting to bland, boring food.  I’ll let you in on another secret. You already know how to eat healthy… It’s just a matter of loving yourself enough to do it! (Tweet it!)  

The answers are already there, you know them intuitively. It’s making the choice, consistently, every day, to act on that intuitive knowledge that so many of us struggle with. I dealt with the same challenges in my own long journey toward optimal health, but I’ll tell you what did it, what sealed the deal: Experiencing for myself the drastic difference in how I feel when I eat great, delicious, fresh, healthy foods… And when I don’t, opting for what I think is easiest and fastest. The proof is in the pudding, my dears. And until you give yourself that chance, until you commit to listening to your intuition for a solid few weeks or even months, you will continue fighting an uphill battle.

For me, connecting to that intuition daily has become second nature.  When I’m home, when I’m out, when I’m on vacation or at my parent’s house, I hold on to that knowledge of what feels good (and makes me look good), and what doesn’t.  Now don’t get me wrong. I’ll have an occasional fro-yo (I mean, there’s a Red Mango literally in my building), or share an amazing Neopolitan-style pizza with my hubby; I’ll eat some super yummy goat cheese at a party once in a while, or enjoy a few squares of killer artisanal dark chocolate.  But I’ve experienced first hand that when these yummy things enter the picture more often, I feel bloated, tired, and gross.  And after a while, it starts to show up on my body as well.  It just isn’t worth it!  I would rather look and feel amazing than eat cheese, and meat, and sweets, and lasagna, and all that other crap I know, intuitively, does not make my body happy.

So what do I eat?  My diet is simple, delicious, and super satisfying.  It allows me to eat my favorite foods (with healthy tweaks), eat out at my favorite restaurants, and still maintain my ideal weight.

Breakfast

I have green tea and a green smoothie most days… about 1 cup of organic kale, spinach, or collards; half a cup of fruit (organic berries, pineapple, an apple, or mango); half an avocado; a little handful of nuts or seeds; water and maybe a little squeeze of raw organic agave.  That’s it!

On days when I’m in a rush, I’ll just grab two pieces of sprouted grain toast with some raw, organic almond butter.

A couple times a week, if I’m a little hungrier, I’ll have two farm fresh eggs, sunny side up, over spinach with some toast.  Or, I’ll have a yummy bowl of steel cut oats or a quinoa porridge with apples, cinnamon, walnuts, and agave.

Lunch

As my private clients will tell you, lunch is the most important (and biggest!) meal of the day.  I mix it up, depending on my mood, but I’ll typically have quinoa with veggies (for example: roasted squash, sautéed greens, garbanzos); quinoa pasta with tons of veggies; some seafood and tomatoes over brown rice; or a huge salad with beans, avocado, sunflower seeds, and oodles of seasonal veggies with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice and olive oil (at least a tablespoon).

I make sure to eat my lunch in a calm, relaxed environment, which promotes digestion and metabolism… No rushing through lunch or eating while working!

Dinner

Dinner is nice and light most days of the week, which, as my clients will tell you, is the number one secret to sustainable weight loss and weight management.  The great thing about these light dinners is that they are quick and easy, which means we spend less time cooking, and more time hanging out and relaxing.  Most evenings, my hubby and I will have soup or a salad, or some cooked veggies (when it’s cold out).  Two nights a week, we order in.  We love sushi Tuesdays, and always share a “sushi for one” and a roll with miso soup or a salad (depending on the weather).  Another night, we’ll order in Thai where my winter favorite is Tom Yum soup… noodles, shrimp, and greens in a yummy spicy broth.

On the weekends, our whole schedule shifts later, so we end up having a late brunch, big, late lunch, and usually we’ll skip dinner altogether.  If we go out to eat, we try to make it on the earlier side, and I’ll typically order yummy veggies off the sides menu or we’ll split a veggie or seafood entree and a salad.

You might notice that there aren’t any snacks.  I am a firm anti-snacking advocate.  If you feel the need to snack, that means your meals (particularly breakfast and lunch) aren’t big enough.  If your meals are satisfying and nourishing enough, you won’t feel the need to snack, which means your blood sugar is more stable and your body has the chance to burn fat all day long.  You’re also not getting all kinds of unnecessary additional calories throughout the day, nor are you feeling hungry and obsessing about food all day long!  Win-win.

You’ll also notice a conspicuous lack of sweets.  Occasionally, I’ll have some dark chocolate or a handful of dried fruit.  Even more occasionally, I’ll have a little bowl of coconut milk ice cream with some berries.  But this happens so rarely that I don’t even include it in my “diet”.  How do I do it?  By keeping my blood sugar stable, my stress levels managed, and my love tank full ; )

Sounds easy right?  Nothing crazy, nothing mind-blowing… just simple, intuitive, healthy eating.  You know you can do it too.  Need help?  Let me know!

The Case For Brown Bagging It!

Following up on our post, Eating Healthy On a Budget, is this great info graphic, showing the astonishing amount of money you can save by bringing your lunch with you to work!  Bringing your own lunch also ensure that you know exactly what you’re putting in your body…it’s all about quality control, people!

Brown Bagging Infographic