Seasonal Affective Disorder – Why am I Sad in the Winter?

seasonal affective disorder negative ions

Many of us (myself included) struggle to adjust to a loss of day light after we “fall back” into Standard Time for the fall and winter. Leaving work in the dark, getting less time outside in the sun, and feeling rushed in the evenings can all contribute to a sense of dreariness this time of year. Also, for me personally — I really hate being cold. But hating being cold isn’t enough to make a person SAD. Let’s get to the bottom of this together.

Defining Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Some people are more susceptible to the change in weather than others, but we all feel it from time to time in the winter. Even the snow bunnies feel it. A more severe version of the winter blues could be the result of a biochemical change, resulting in Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

The Mayo Clinic defines Season Affective Disorder (SAD) as “a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons … a subtype of major depression.’

Seasonal Affective Disorder Symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Problems getting along with other people
  • Hypersensitivity to rejection
  • Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain

These symptoms are pretty similar (if not the same as) other forms of depression, and just like depression, they’re more likely to affect women than men. But why are they grabbing folks in winter who are otherwise non-depressive at other points during the year? What’s so special about WINTER?

Why am I Sad in the Winter?

A few things are happening in our bodies (and in our lives) this time of year that could contribute to SAD — or even a less severe version of the “winter blues.” As I hinted above, a lack of sun exposure directly relates to a few of these, which I’ll explain as best I can.

Vitamin D 

Less exposure to sunlight means less vitamin D synthesis, which can sometimes mean a change in mood and energy for those who are sensitive. In a meta-analysis to review the connection between vitamin D deficiency and depression, researchers found a consistent correlation between low vitamin D concentration and depression in adults.

Combating the lack of sunlight with vitamin D3 supplements is a good idea for most of us here in the SF Bay, as we live far enough from the equator to be concerned about deficiency.

seasonal affective disorder circadian rhythm

Circadian Rhythm (aka, our body’s biological clock)

The quantity and quality of light that enters our eyes (specifically the retina) affects our natural body clocks, and when the light changes, our energy levels, motivation, mood, and sleep patterns can all change with it.

Insufficient sunlight (entering through the eye) causes the brain to do extra work to produce melatonin, which is crucial in regulating sleep and has been linked to an increase in depressive symptoms. We want enough melatonin to get a good night’s sleep, not too much, which can prove problematic.

When we stop receiving a flood of bright light in the morning, our brains and bodies lag behind. Some people adjust quickly, some people have a harder time adjusting.

“The body clock takes its cue from sunlight, especially that in the morning. But as you get up into the northern-tier states, there’s a 4½ hour delay in sunrise in mid-winter versus the summer … in the middle portion of the U.S., there’s a two-hour difference … This difference is enough to affect circadian rhythm timing and throw the body clock out of sync.” (WebMD source)

Conclusion: The change in light is a major trigger for Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Light Therapy

seasonal affective disorder sun boxWith sunlight in shorter supply during winter months, it’s important to get outside when the sun is out, to look up and soak in the rays. Take a brisk walk on your lunch break when the sun is at its highest. 

If the sun does come out before you get to work every day, consider taking a walk first thing in the morning, and face the sunrise as much as possible. Do what you can to spend time outside, even if it’s chilly.

But sometimes that’s not enough, and we need to take extra measures to get adequate light into our brains.

One of the most effective treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorders is light therapy. Using a special light box (or sun box) that contains special light bulbs that mimic the sunlight can activate the parts of the brain that regulate our body clocks. Facing a sun box in the morning for as little as 30 minutes — say, while you’re eating breakfast or getting ready for work — can have a dramatic impact on your mood. 

According to Michael Terman, PhD, director of the Winter Depression Program at New York Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University Medical Center, using a sun box “keep[s] your body clock on its springtime cycle during the winter, and that’s how the depressive symptoms are lifted.” Pretty crazy right?

I’ve actually been doing this for about a week now and can already tell the difference. Maybe it’s too soon to tell, but I definitely feel more myself after using the one linked above while I’m doing my hair and make up in the morning.


Warning: there can be side effects to using a light box, and since so many of my readers come here for skin issues, I need to be clear: If you take medication that makes your skin sensitive to light, including skin medications, some anti-inflammatory medications, and certain herbs, talk to your dermatologist or PCP before starting light therapy.

If you have bipolar disorder, light therapy could trigger mania, hyperactivity, or agitation. Talk to your doctor before giving it a try.


Negative Ions

seasonal affective disorder negative ionsThis is where we get into some interesting territory. Let’s start with a little background. 

Ions are atoms with an electrical charge (positive or negative). Negative ions are found in greater concentrations around waterfalls, mountains, and beaches — natural places, typically large bodies of water. Decades of research has shown a correlation between increased negative ions and increased serotonin

You can reap the benefits of negative ions by frequenting the environments where concentrations are naturally high, but in the winter, these places are often inaccessible. One winter option is to actually purchase a negative ionizer (affiliate link) for your home. Before you do that, take note that research on the efficacy of negative ions to reduce depression or anxiety is not conclusive. It’s a hypothesis that’s been tested with varying results. Give the linked research a look before you purchase. 

Cold and Flu Season

In working on this blog post I actually learned something new myself. In the wake of a viral infection, it’s common to feel depressive symptoms. Did you know this? I sure didn’t, but it makes a lot of sense. When your immune system is in high gear, so is inflammation in the body and brain — this is the natural progression our bodies go through to fight infection. It’s a good thing in the end, but it can sure make us feel like crap. Here’s a brief explanation from Psychology Today:

“Our immune, neurologic, and psychological systems are closely intertwined. When there is a foreign invader in your body, like the influenza virus, your cells produce proinflammatory cytokines, non-antibody proteins that activate and organize your body’s immune response (Raison 2006). These chemical proteins circulate throughout your body and communicate with your brain, which in turn produces its own cytokines. These brain cytokines lead to fever, fatigue, depressed mood, lack of appetite, lack of motivation, social withdrawal, poor concentration, and altered sleeping patterns. In other words, the physical sickness caused by the inflammatory response significantly overlaps with depressive symptoms.”

We learned from my series on gut health that inflammation is very closely tied to mental health, sleep, and stress. Depression is correlated with leaky brain (a permeability that can both cause inflammation and be caused by inflammation). So it shouldn’t have surprised me that an inflammatory immune response would trigger depressive symptoms.

seasonal affective disorder

Take Care of Yourself this Winter

This time of year can be brutal — I’ve already had two colds this year and December has only just begun. Take care of yourself by practicing good hand washing hygiene, staying away from sick friends, and staying home if you do come down with something. You can also boost your immune system by eating foods rich in vitamin C and zinc, avoiding inflammatory foods, exercising, getting enough sleep, and avoiding unnecessary stress.

Remember, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression — it can be tempting to isolate, to curl up with a blanket and Netflix, to eat too much raw cookie dough or an entire bag of chips when you’re feeling down. Do your best to resist these temptations: find support in your social network rather than trying to do it all on your own. Take advantage of any resources you might have to help you, and don’t be afraid to ask. 

If you’re susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder, these steps, in addition to experimenting with light therapy and/or negative ion therapy could make the difference for you this winter. Don’t forget to talk to your doctor before embarking on the light therapy journey if you have any relevant diagnoses, and take care of yourself. 


FTC DISCLOSURE: This is not a sponsored post but I will receive compensation if you use the links in this post to purchase Bone Broths Co. bone broth. I’m proud to call this company a partner and work with them to bring bone broth to as many people as possible. All opinions are my own.

New Year Reflection: Finding Space for the Creative

I’ve waited to write a New Year post, because I have mixed feelings about using January as a jumping off point for big life changes. After all, it’s still the dead of winter. Any physical health goals that involve weight loss, increased activity, or eating fewer calories is sure to be a challenge when you’re freezing or stuck inside, so I don’t feel right about trying to get you amped to make all these changes when doing so when the weather warms is likely a better choice to actually get the results you’re looking for.

New Year Reflection

This post is different from my usual posts. It’s more of a reflection as I gaze forward, backward, and inward, and examine how I’m living and feeling right now in this moment. My goal with this type of deeper sharing is to encourage you to reflect in the same way — and write it down. Actually verbalize your observations and reflection, even if it’s just for yourself. You’d be surprised at how helpful it can be to put things into perspective as your direct your energy into new goals for 2016.

New Year Reflection

I’m more than slightly obsessed with succulents. This is my first propagation mandala, inspired by so many beautiful works of art on Instagram. Making time for more quiet, meditative, creative projects like this is part of my plan for 2016.

A Year — or Decade — In Review

So, 2016 is here — I’ve officially been out of college for over a decade and out of grad school for just shy of 5 years. That’s bananas! Adulthood, womanhood, professional career, home-ownership, marriage, dog-parenting, gardening, owning a vacation vehicle — these are all external markers of where I am right at this moment. I’m someone who’s doing things. 

But what does that really mean? Is a list of interests and accomplishments really what life is about? Do these things represent who I really am at my core? Does what I “do” define me?

I don’t think so. Not totally anyway. 

I’ve realized that the big, gigantic life events that can be all-consuming (like being in school, planning a wedding, and buying a house) are all checked off the list — a list I didn’t consciously realize I was keeping. When I went back to Texas for the holidays, I realized that, while my career is going through some pretty exciting transitions at the moment, I really didn’t have that much of an update for my family and friends. I don’t want to be one of those people who’s always talking about work, so I tend to hold back on that — especially with friends that I rarely see — because I’d rather talk about something more substantial/personal/interesting. At the moment, there’s nothing exciting on its face to share with people I only see once or twice a year. And I’ve realized something about that.

That’s ok. 

It’s ok that I don’t have a big update. I don’t need to prepare talking points about my life’s accomplishments to have something valuable to contribute. Yes, my personal insights are based on experience, but they’re also rooted in introspection and self-discovery.

I think there are some folks waiting for Loren and me to decide that we’re having a baby. And to be honest, I don’t think that’s going to happen. That topic always comes up at one point or another when I go back to Texas (or when I’m around friends with kids), and because I’ve been ambivalent for so long, I allow (and even invite) the conversation at times, because I feel the need to hash out my trepidation. But I’ve pretty-much covered it at this point. There’s not much new to discuss on that point either. And I’ve realized something about that.

That’s ok too.

I’m not going to use this space to explain why Loren and I don’t want to have kids. If you’d actually like to hear about that, let me know in the comments and I’ll do a follow-up. But for now, I’ll assume that you know all the major reasons a couple might decide not to have kids. We pretty much hit all of those. I will say though that I really like being around other people’s kids, and I would like to make more time in my life to be able to do that.

New Year’s Resolutions

I resolve this year to recognize more quickly when I get caught up in doing doing doing.

I resolve this year to master the art of stillness.

I resolve this year to listen when creativity calls me.

Last year, my New Year’s Resolution was to start a mindful meditation practice. To be frank, I didn’t succeed in creating a daily practice. I did succeed in awakening my senses and becoming a more deliberate person, but the practice itself didn’t stick, and some of the habits I was hoping to break at the dawn of 2015 are even more entrenched at the dawn of 2016, namely the constant need for stimulation. There will be moments in time when I look up and realize that I’ve either been reading a screen, listening to a podcast, or sleeping for days and days without any sort of break in the noise. No silence. No room to empty my brain and make space for something spontaneous. And I realize that I need silence — stillness.

I actually wrote a song about this very thing when I was in college. Well, it’s about a lot of things, but the main point was that I’d learned to access myself — my truth at the time — in silence. And I’ve realized that I need to learn that skill again. That’s where creativity lives. I’m reading Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic right now, and it’s all about accessing your creativity in the face of fear. She defines bravery not as the absence of fear, but courage in the face of fear. Not an original idea, but resonant nonetheless. 

I’ve never considered myself a fearful person when it comes to expressing creativity, but I can honestly say that I was absolutely the most brave (read:fearful but did it anyway) I ever was musically in deciding to add this song to the album I was recording. It’s a pretty big departure in style from anything else I ever wrote in all the years that I wrote music, but it was so true to who I was when I wrote it. It was one of those songs that flowed out and kept going and going — I was channeling something — but I was pretty nervous about adding it to my otherwise folky- girl-with-guitar-style album. In case you want a glimpse of me from a previous life, here it is:

It might seem vainglorious to be inspired by my own art, but to be perfectly honest, I really feel like there’s an element of who I was back then that’s gotten lost, and I’d really like to find it again. So I’m fine with using my own art as a jumping off point, or a place to get back to in my quest for being open and still. 

So yeah, I don’t really know where this post was headed when I started it, but this is where it ended up. With a song written by a 20-something version of myself from 13+ years ago and some resolve to find a piece of that person inside of who I am today. And to do that with some silence and contemplation. As I mentioned earlier, my career is going through some major shifts, so I think these resolutions are my preemptive strike against burnout. And my sincere appeal to the creative energy around me to come in and set up shop the way it used to when I was younger. 2016 is going to be the year of making space for the creative. 

Your Turn:

February is almost over, what have your NYR’s been about so far? Are you thinking of revising them? Do you have a plan? Have you considered where creativity might fit into your year? I’d love to know. Please share in the comments below!


FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. All opinions are my own.

Mindful Intentions this Holiday Season

It’s the week of Christmas and I’m finding it unbelievable how quickly this year has passed. I know it’s not quite over yet, but this has been by far the fastest year of my life. It’s flown by at lightning speed, and I think part of the reason for that is the amount that’s been piling onto my plate in the last 6 months. I’m not complaining — I love the work I’m doing. I love this blog. I love the adventures we’ve had this past year (some of which I shared in my 2 year anniversary post), and I love that I have the luxury of choosing how to spend so much of my time. I think the problem is that sometimes the choice I make is to dive into Instagram or Facebook, and suddenly 30 minutes has passed. That’s going to change in 2016.

I made a promise to myself and to you last year that I was going to start prioritizing mindfulness. In that area of wellness, I’ve seen some successes and some challenges. In some ways, I’ve come a long way, but in others, I’ve regressed — the phone thing I mentioned is a big regression for me. I find myself with my face in my phone more than ever these days, and it’s a personal goal of mine to reduce that this coming year. 

mindful intentions

There’s an App for That

I learned a while back that there was an app called Moment. I learned it when I was doing research for this post about unplugging to get more creative, but I never quite pulled the trigger and downloaded it. Basically, it monitors how often you pick up your phone with the idea that awareness around your habits will help you change them. It works the same way keeping a food journal does — just the act of monitoring can have the power to change the behavior.

I’m doing it right now. The app is downloading as we speak. I’m going for it, and my quest for 2016 is to change my phone habits. It’s a free app — I get nothing at all for telling you about it. I’m just curious to see where I am, how much time I spend on my phone (a more specific quantity than “too much”), and what I might feel motivated to do to improve my habits. We’ll see how it goes. 

mindful intentions

Mindful Intentions This Holiday Season

If you subscribe to my newsletter, you read the note I sent out to you a few weeks back, just as the holiday hustle and bustle began. I mentioned bringing mindful intentions with you everywhere you go this season, and how this simple act can reshape your whole holiday experience.

Bring your mindful intentions to your office every day if you work at one of those places that covers every flat surface with candy and cookies this time of year. Bring them with you to your next holiday party. Bring them with you as you plan to see your family (especially if that’s a stressful prospect for you). 

To bring mindful intentions with you is to check in with yourself as you move through activities you might not otherwise be actively present in.

Mindful Intentions at Work

Before grazing the work candy/cookies buffet, mindfully ask yourself if you’re hungry or if you’re just taking something because it’s there. If you’re hungry enough to eat an apple, try that first before going for the candy. Otherwise, grab some water or tea and head back to your desk. And ask the question without judgement. Just ask it and see what comes up without berating yourself when you find out the answer.

Mindful Intentions at the Holiday Partymindful intentions and mindful eating

When you prepare for a holiday party, offer to bring something that you know you’ll enjoy eating that isn’t full of sugar or junk. Be mindful of your appetite going into the party and prepare ahead of time so that you’re not ravenous when you see the hors d’oeuvres table. Do a quick scan of what’s available to eat and choose your favorite “indulgence” for the night — the one that’s really worth it, and enjoy it without guilt. Leave the rest of the sweets alone. 

Mindful Intentions at Family Gatherings

As you gather your gumption to see difficult family, notice how the anticipation feels, and allow it to dissipate. Understand that you are the master of your own destiny, that you are a sovereign being with control over your reactions and that the power is yours to entertain or ignore toxic people. Recognize that if you choose to “eat your feelings,” you will only be punishing yourself. And remember to *breathe.*

Mindful Intentions Towards Yourself

And absolutely MOST IMPORTANTLY, be kind to yourself. This is a time of year for celebrating, for being with those we love, for showering loved ones with good intentions in the year to come, for deep gratitude for the blessings in our lives, for our health, and for generosity. Don’t forget to be generous with yourself too. You deserve it. We are often our biggest critics. Use this time at the end of the year to acknowledge the things you’ve done well, to celebrate your accomplishments, and to appreciate yourself and how hard you work. 

Thank you for being part of the CWB community this year! I couldn’t do this without you!

And just for fun, Dexter says Happy Holidays too!

happy holidays from dexter the dog

Beer Belly vs Muffin Top: A Healthy Debate

fit fat TOFI

What’s the difference between a beer belly and a muffin top? No, that’s not the first line of a bad joke. It’s a real (and important) question that I’m planning to answer today. Although both are slang for some extra body bulge, the difference between extra inches on the waist and padding on your backside is actually a lot more critical than you might think. Have you ever noticed that beer bellies are actually hard, rather than cushiony like muffin tops, junk in the trunk, or even thunder thighs? 

Ok, enough with all these euphemisms. If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I’m not a fan of fat shaming — I’ve had my fair share of struggles in the body image department and don’t wish to perpetuate any of the hype that “thin is in.” But the truth is, not all fat is created equal. There’s the kind of fat that makes us a bit softer in certain places, but then there’s this other kind — a more insidious kind — that can be nearly invisible in some people. And because it doesn’t come in the form of a little extra padding, it’s not taken as seriously as it should be. I’m talking about visceral fat — the kind of fat that inhabits organ tissue beneath the outer layers of our bodies; the kind that leads to all sorts of health problems and needs to be addressed far more urgently than junk in the trunk.

Let’s talk TOFI 

TOFI? Is this a new hair product? No. TOFI is an acronym: Thin Outside Fat Inside. I did not come up with this term. Professor Jimmy Bell, head of the molecular imaging group at the Medical Research Council’s centre at Imperial College, London did. It’s in reference to exactly what it sounds like — thin individuals with fat in their internal cavity. The location and type of fat that defines TOFI individuals is of particular concern when it comes to health risks like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

In the picture below, you see two cross-sections of human torsos. The white areas are fat. You can see on the left, there’s a thicker layer of fat around the perimeter of the body but there’s not much fat in the center. The opposite is true on the right. The white (fatty) area in the middle is much larger on the right, which means this person has fat deposited in and around the organs. The person on the right might have less “flab” but is actually the less healthy of the two. Individuals with a normal BMI but greater than normal amount of middle body fat (typically the visceral fat that you can’t necessarily see) are considered TOFI.

fit fat TOFI

Image by “ImagingFat” sourced through Creative Commons

What’s visceral fat?

Visceral fat is found in the midsection of the body, and it lives in the organs and internal tissue, rather than on the outside (like love handles or junk in the trunk). Visceral fat is a hard beer belly. While TOFI people almost certainly don’t have a beer belly, they have a miniature version of it right under their tiny tummies, and they possess the same health risks as the person with the beer belly.

This means that they could likely be on their way to Metabolic Syndrome and all the accompanying health challenges that come with it, all the while thinking that their diet of gummy bears and candy corn are doing their bodies good. (If you recognize that movie reference and put it in the comments at the end of this post, you are my new best friend.)

Metabolic Syndrome is a collection of symptoms that tend to lead to Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease if no intervention is undertaken (namely lifestyle change). Symptoms include a large waistline, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, insulin resistance, and high fasting blood sugar. 

While most of those symptoms I just rattled off require blood tests to find out, the one that doesn’t is the waistline measurement. And a good way to know if you’re TOFI — or even FOFI — is to measure your waist AND your hips to find out if the ratio is within healthy guidelines. 

The World Health Organization states that abdominal obesity is defined as a waist-to-hip ratio above 0.90 for males and above 0.85 for females, or a BMI (Body Mass Index) above 30.0.  

TOFI Thin outside fat inside

image sourced through Creative Commons by Mikael Häggström, from original works by SuicideGirls and FatM1ke

Can you be Overweight or Obese and Healthy?

The short answer is yes. Everything has its opposite, right? The flip side of TOFI is FOTI (Fat Outside Thin Inside). It’s possible to have a little extra padding without putting your health at risk — as long as the padding is in the right place. (Not in the middle of your body in and around your organs.)

Rest easy on your big beautiful booty. 

Trim Down the Waistline: Reducing Visceral Fat

Chronic Illnesses like metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease are all preventable with behavior change. If you’re worried about visceral fat, what you eat and the quality of the food is just as, if not more important than how much you eat. And the way you live your life day-to-day is actually pretty important too. 

Food

fit fat TOFIWhen it comes to food, mitigating inflammation and insulin spikes with your diet is the best course of action for reducing your risk. What that means is eating a whole food diet rich in alkalizing foods and low in sugar and processed junk. Think organic fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and dairy, organic or wild sources of protein, and healthy fats like coconut oil and avocados.

In fact, if you’re not already diabetic (and are free from liver disease), replacing most (or all) of your cooking oil with coconut oil could actually help you achieve your weight loss goals! Coconut oil consists of medium chain triglycerides which go straight to your liver to either burn as energy or get stored as ketones — compounds that can reduce appetite and stimulate the metabolism. (Ask your doctor before making any dramatic changes.)

Cortisol

As for how we live our lives, this is where the mental/emotional/spiritual piece comes in. I’m sure you’ve heard of that pesky hormone cortisol. If not, think stress. Cortisol is activated when we’re under stress. It’s part of a cascade of effects the body sets off in the stress response, and once we start seeing cortisol in the blood stream, insulin isn’t far behind.

If you haven’t yet made the connection between cortisol, insulin, and middle body weight, start now. 

Here’s how it works: You experience stress, which begins the fight or flight response in the body. Fight or flight shuts down digestion and prepares the body to use its biggest and most important muscle groups (arms and legs) for fighting off or running from life-threatening stress. But for the most part, traffic, screaming children, and work deadlines aren’t life-threatening. Cortisol lingers in the body after the stress subsides, causing increased appetite, increased glucose production, and increased insulin release. The latter two promote fat storage around the midsection.

Relax and Enjoy Life

Sometimes the best way to slim down (specifically in the midsection) is to make big shifts in how much stress we take on and how much sleep we get. Find ways to enjoy your life. Get outside and bask in the sun, swim in a lake, or hug a tree. Bury your feet in the sand. Play with your pet or call your best friend for a walk around the park. Do something to get yourself connected. You might be surprised at what this can accomplish.

fit fat TOFI

Get Started Now

Are you looking for a way to get started on your journey to health? Need some simple recipes chock full of veggies and healthy ingredients to get you going each morning? Download my latest eBook 23 Healthy Smoothie Recipes and never eat another greasy breakfast again.
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A Complete Toolbox for Becoming Your Best Self

The Weight Obsession

As a culture, we’re so obsessed with losing weight (especially women) that thinness has become synonymous with health. I want to reframe this conversation and emphasize that there’s a difference between being skinny and being healthy, and sometimes you can’t tell from the number on the scale just how healthy (or unhealthy) you are. 

Admittedly, I’ve had my fair share of struggling with the number on the scale — I won’t pretend that I’m immune to this social conditioning that thinness = beauty — but in recent months, I’ve really begun to feel a shift. And that shift came when I realized that I FEEL better than I’ve ever felt in my life, and feeling great is reflected in how we interface with the world.

Sure, there are some physical indicators: healthy hair, skin, and nails, and the total absence of digestive distress. But there are some beautiful internal markers too: satisfaction with my work and my relationships, and the joy of being fully present and connected when I’m away from the office. All of these things serve to bring me to the place I am today, which is happy with who I am and how I look. 

TOFI Thin outside fat inside

A Lifestyle Shift

One of the biggest lifestyle changes I’ve made since recovering from my hand injury has been the introduction of a weight lifting program into my weekly activities. It’s been a slow and modest effort, but I’m lifting more weight than I ever have, and it feels so empowering! Not only am I feeling awesome in my pants, I’m also feeling a LOT stronger while I’m climbing and hiking — which always gives me a confidence boost.

I plan to dedicate a few future posts solely to the topic of weight lifting, but for today, my point is that there’s a lot more to being healthy than the number on the scale — it’s multifaceted, not just in the physical sense, but in the mental/emotional/spiritual sense as well. Where we place our priorities, what we surround ourselves with in our homes, the connection we have to the food on our plates, the people in our lives, and the world in which we exist; all of these things make up a holistic approach to health and wellbeing, and it’s in these finer points that we find true fulfillment.   

Staying Healthy with Whole Foods and Holistic Living

Sometimes making a lifestyle shift is more complicated than just sticking to a list of instructions. Attempting to flatten out the complexity of our lives — our families — onto a sheet of paper can feel stifling. And at the very same time, attempting to stick with what’s prescribed can feel overwhelming. In this digital age, the vastness of information, differing opinions, and conflicting theories can make for a confusing plan of attack. 

But what if you had the best resources on the web for living a healthy lifestyle all in one place and right at your fingertips? What if you had guidance and info from respected nutrition and holistic health experts like Abel James of Fat-Burning Man, George Bryant of Civilized Caveman, and Katie of Wellness Mama on your phone or kindle waiting for you every time you needed them?

eBooks

Enter the Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle

I’m super excited to tell you about this eBook and eCourse bundle this week! I was invited to contribute my eBook, Nine Easy Steps to Delicious Gluten-Free Living, and when I saw the list of authors and contributors, I couldn’t say yes quickly enough! 

This bundle offer is now over. If you’d like to be informed of the next time an offer this good comes around, fill out this super short form and I’ll be sure to let you know! (They happen at least once a year)

This is truly the best value available for a comprehensive resource on holistic, healthy, natural living. I can honestly say that I’m proud to be a part of this and honored to share it with my readers (that’s you!). Not only are Abel, George, and Katie on board with their beautiful books (already worth more than twice the cost of the entire bundle), we’ve also got homesteaders, paleo bloggers, certified aromatherapists, nutritionists, and real foodies on board sharing their very best work, all compiled in this beautiful package. My book is in a lineup of 9 “allergy-friendly” eBooks, and accompanying me on that list is Carol from Ditch the Wheat! Super psyched!

TOFI Thin Outside Fat Inside

All together, this package is worth over $1900!

This bundle offer is now over. If you’d like to be informed of the next time an offer this good comes around, fill out this super short form and I’ll be sure to let you know! (They happen at least once a year)

Plus, it comes with $220 worth of bonus products including:

  • ePantry – FREE hand soap + $8 credit on one shipment, FREE dish soap + $8 credit on the next shipment, AND 60-day VIP access with FREE shipping ($30 value)
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  • NaturOli – FREE travel essentials facial set: deep conditioning facial wash (1 oz.), new radiance facial creme (1 oz.), exfoliating walnut scrub (1 oz.) ($16.95 value)
  • Bloom Naturals – FREE SPOT treatment for acne & eczema OR a $15 gift certificate toward Bloom Naturals products ($15 value)
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Besides being so incredibly helpful and inspiring, one of the things I like best about the bundle is the price. By offering the bundle for a short time only, we’re able to give you access to over $1900 worth of amazing products for a whopping 97% off!

TOFI Thin Inside Fat Outside

Here’s how it works:

  1. Visit the Ultimate Bundle website, take a quick look at all the goodness that comes in this package, then click “Get my copy now!” to go through their simple 3-step checkout process.
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  3. Use their Getting Started Interactive Guides to pick the area you want to tackle first and start making healthy changes!

The most important detail, though, is that this bundle is available for just 6 days! After Monday night, September 14th, the sale ends and you’d have to buy all of these products individually.

This bundle offer is now over. If you’d like to be informed of the next time an offer this good comes around, fill out this super short form and I’ll be sure to let you know! (They happen at least once a year)

Oh, and one more thing!

I’m giving away two of my own special bonuses exclusively to every CWB reader who purchases this bundle. The first one is a list of my 23 favorite, tried and true, healthy smoothie concoctions — all compiled into a beautiful eBook! Start your morning off with a veggie-packed smoothie and pretty-much guarantee a great day for yourself! 

23HealthySmoothieRecipes

The second one is a CWB bumper sticker! Yes, I’ll actually MAIL it to you! This is my very first ever CWB swag, and I’m probably more excited about it than I should be, but here it is!!! Eeeeeee!!!!!!

whole foods and holistic health

To get these exclusive CWB bonuses, simply fill out this form after you’ve purchased your bundle and I’ll get your stuff to you as soon as humanly possible!

–> CLICK HERE to learn more or buy the bundle!

This bundle offer is now over. If you’d like to be informed of the next time an offer this good comes around, fill out this super short form and I’ll be sure to let you know! (They happen at least once a year)

It’s even backed by a full 30-day guarantee, so you can know for sure that it’s right for you. 

If you’re a regular CWB reader, you know I don’t give a lot of real estate to “sales” on this site. This is the exception because it’s worth being an exception — I’m proud to be a part of this, and I want to share it with you!

I’ve already shared how fantastic it feels to finally be my best self, and the resources in this bundle are exactly the type of skills and tools I’ve used to get there. Join me and become your best self today!


FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. All opinions are my own.

Why We Sleep: Top 10 Tips for Getting a Great Night’s Sleep

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In the third and final installment of my series on sleep called Why We Sleep, I’m going to share the Top 10 Tips for Getting a Great Night’s Sleep. This list of sleep tips is compiled from information all over the web and in the literature, including the podcast I keep mentioning (which is shared in full at the bottom of this list), the National Sleep Foundation, and Lights Out by TS Wiley. I’ve included some of my sources right within the list, and I’ll link a few more good ones at the bottom of this post to ensure that you know I’m not making this stuff up. I shared the first two tips in the previous two posts in the series, but I wanted this list to be complete, so you get two repeats if you’ve been following along.

Make sure you bookmark this post so you can come back to it as you master each step in the challenge to improve your sleep. I know I myself could stand to better integrate some of these tips!

Why We Sleep (2)photo on the left side of this image taken by Mike Durkin, cropped and color balance altered, sourced through Creative Commons

Top 10 Tips for Getting a Great Night’s Sleep

  1. Use Your Bedroom for Sleeping Only (and sex)

    • It’s not for reading.
    • It’s not for texting.
    • It’s not for working or sending one last email.
    • It’s not for TV. (In fact, get that TV out of your room completely.)
    • And it’s DEFINITELY not for Candy Crush.
    • Train your brain that your bed is for sleeping, and rid any other potential associations you might have that could send your mind into racing thoughts as your head down to sleep.
  2. Dim the Lights an Hour Before Bed

    • Dim your overhead lights if you can, or switch to softer lighting (like lamps and/or candles) once the sun goes down, or at least an hour before bed.
    • Turn off the screens (TV, computer, tablet) an hour before bed to allow your brain to resume proper melatonin production, which helps you fall asleep and stay asleep. If you have to keep working once the sun goes down, reduce your exposure to blue light by using an app like F.lux on your computer or purchasing blue-blocking glasses like these (affiliate link). 
  3. Close the Kitchen 2 to 3 Hours Before Bedtime

    • Foods that are difficult to break down (like heavy meats, greasy, or rich food) can create indigestion if you eat too close to bedtime.
    • Foods high in sugar can create a burst of energy too late into the night, in addition to packing on the pounds, which can sometimes lead to snoring and additional sleep challenges.
  4. Cut off the Coffee in the PM hours

    • Coupling coffee with poor sleep can really become a vicious cycle if you continue to drink coffee into the afternoon. The earlier you can have your last cup of the day, the better. 
    • If you’re on the coffee train, try to cut back to 2 cups a day if you’re having more than that, and absolutely stop before 2pm. 
  5. Dry Up Early

    • Minimize your water intake an hour before bed so your bladder won’t wake you up in the night. 
    • If you drink alcohol, keep it to a minimum — one or two drinks a few hours before bed. A drink or two might help you fall sleep, but having more than that will reduce your REM sleep and make for a restless evening. 
  6. Stay Cool and Comfy

  7. Exercise Early

    • Staying active is important for promoting sound sleep, but working out too late in the day will get your blood pumping too close to bedtime. If you can’t start your day at the gym, make sure you’re cooling down at least 2 to 3 hours before it’s time to go to sleep.
  8. Use White Noise

    • Consider ear plugs or a white noise machine to help drown out the creaks of an old house or the snores of a partner, especially if you’re a light sleeper or have trouble getting back to sleep once you’re awoken.  
  9. If You’re Up, Get Up

    • Don’t just lay there if you’re having trouble getting to sleep. It creates frustration and unrest  in your bed.
    • If after 20 minutes or so, you’re still awake, get out of bed and sit on the couch with some dull reading material (not work, not your favorite sci-fi thriller, definitely not the news). After 5 to 10 minutes, give it another try in bed. 
  10. Wind Down with Peaceful Input

    • Avoid too much mental and emotional stimulation right before bed.
    • If you MUST watch or listen to the news, do it in the morning or afternoon, not in the evening. 
    • If you love Game of Thrones and Daredevil as much as I do, watch them well before you start your bedtime routine.
    • Stay away from phone calls or conversations that could leave you stewing right before bed time.

Thanks for following me through the last three posts on Why We Sleep. I hope you learned a few things and found some of the sleep tips and tricks useful on your journey to a well-rested existence. You might be surprised at how much better you feel after just one quality night’s sleep! Don’t forget to bookmark this post (or the whole series) so that you can revisit this list as you master each of these skills, one at a time.

I also encourage you to subscribe to Inquiring Minds so you can learn all kinds of science-y things you might not have known before! Check out the resources below, including the full episode of the podcast.


Here’s the podcast from Inquiring Minds I’ve mentioned at every turn throughout this series:

Here’s the link to the episode notes so you can follow along:

http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2015/01/inquiring-minds-matt-walker

Other resources for sleep tips and information to check out if you’re still not convinced:

http://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/sleep_hygiene.htm

http://www.sleepeducation.com/essentials-in-sleep/healthy-sleep-habits

https://chriskresser.com/9-steps-to-perfect-health-8-sleep-more-deeply/

http://chriskresser.com/how-artificial-light-is-wrecking-your-sleep-and-what-to-do-about-it/


FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains an affiliate link, which means I may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. I only link to products that I USE and LOVE. All opinions are my own.

Why We Sleep: What Really Happens When We Sleep?

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Last week I released part 1 in a series called Why We Sleep that will run through this week and into next week. Today we’ll cover what happens when we sleep and discuss some misconceptions, and next Wednesday, we’ll wrap up with a complete list of awesome sleep hygiene tips I know you’ll find super helpful. 

When I discussed the health risks of insufficient sleep in the first installment of Why We Sleep, I didn’t share much about the how or the why these health risks arise. A big part of how and why things start to go awry when we skip out on the zz’s is tucked into the answer to this question: “what happens when we sleep?” What actually takes place in our brains when we check out for the night is quite extraordinary. You might be surprised to find out that it’s only when we sleep that certain processes occur, and there’s no getting around it. 

why we sleep, what happens when we sleep?photo on the left side of this image taken by Mike Durkin, cropped and color balance altered, sourced through Creative Commons

What Happens When We Sleep?

A Symphony of Synchrony

Matt Walker’s research at UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging lab revealed what he calls a symphony of brain activity. In our deepest stages of sleep (stages 3 and 4), brain cells all fire together and then become silent. Hundreds of thousands of cells all unite to do the exact same thing, creating this mass synchrony effect. While this is happening, the cortex goes into a default mode of a slow but highly synchronized chant.

That’s all fine and good, but so what? What does this do for us day to day?

When large parts of the brain start syncing up, the brain is able to connect different pieces of information across vast distances, precipitating the synthesis of complex ideas and experiences and creating a “rich tapestry” of knowledge and information across the span of the entire brain. It takes what we learned that day and connects it to stored information, creating context, relationships with information new and old, and a deeper understanding of complex ideas. Matt Walker described it as “converting knowledge to wisdom.” I love that. Don’t you? 

Waste Management Services

I came across a video that explains how sleep serves as a waste removal system, flushing toxins from the brain, including beta amyloid, which is implicated in Alzheimer’s disease. They do a great job of explaining it, so I’ll just let them do that. Check it out.

Our Memory Maker

Think of the brain like a sponge with a bucket underneath it, and all day long (in waking life) the sponge gets filled with the water of what we take in (information). Now think of the night (while we’re sleeping) as the time to wring out the sponge and store the liquid in the bucket underneath to make room for the next day’s water supply. This wringing out takes place in Stage 2 non-REM sleep and at no other point in our sleeping or waking lives. Without it, we simply can’t continue to take in and retain new information.

The effect of missing out on vital sleep is two-fold:

1. If we miss a lot of sleep the night BEFORE we take in important information, our chances of making solid memories of what we learned are greatly diminished, as our sponge is too full to hold onto much of anything new.

2. If we miss a lot of sleep the night AFTER we take in this information, the memories won’t be wrung out — they won’t be cemented into the architecture of the brain (stages 3 and 4 of non-REM sleep).

As Walker says, “If you don’t snooze, you lose.” I guess I wasted a lot of energy pulling all-nighters before big tests in college … 

Our Weight Watcher

Research has shown that insufficient sleep results not only in insulin resistance, but also an increase in ghrelin and a decrease in leptin. What are all these words??

Insulin resistance is a precursor to diabetes and is one of the main features of metabolic syndrome. It takes place when cells don’t properly take in insulin to neutralize glucose. This means higher levels of blood glucose upon waking — so high in fact, that you could get a positive reading for prediabetes after just a few nights of short sleep. Free-flowing insulin in the blood stream also has the potential to damage organs like the brain, kidneys, and liver. why we sleep, what happens when we sleep?

Ghrelin and leptin are the hormones that tell you when you’re hungry and full, respectively. When you don’t get enough sleep, chances are these hormone are telling you that you’re not full, and to keep on eating. Additionally, when we’re tired we tend to go for the sugary or starchy foods first, to give us a jolt of energy to get through the day. As you might have already noticed, this is the start of a vicious cycle that can result in weight gain and diabetes.

Full-blown Type 2 Diabetes comes with its own sleep challenges as well. Diabetics are more likely to have sleep apnea and damaged/inefficient kidneys, both of which can wake them up intermittently throughout the night (to breathe and to use the bathroom), exacerbating an already troubling problem. 

You can learn more about the connection between sleep and these hormones (and therefore weight) in my post Why Gut Health Matters: Your Weight. That post is part of a series too. If you haven’t checked it out, I suggest you bookmark it!

Our Alarm System

Fascinating research (also by Matt Walker and the folks at UC Berkeley) has determined that poor sleep creates a misfire when it comes to detecting facial expressions and the intentions of those around us. In other words, super sleepy people can’t tell if someone is a friend or a foe, if someone intends to shake their hand or do them harm. The distress signal from the brain to the heart is disconnected. “Sleep deprivation appears to dislocate the body from the brain,” said Walker. “You can’t follow your heart.” 

We lose our innate self-protective mechanisms when we lose sleep. We might also lose a fight with our partner when we misread their intention to give us a hug as their intention to tease us. 

Misconceptions About Sleep

Think you’ve found some short-cuts to get around short-sleeping yourself? Think again! I’ve compiled the 3 most common misconceptions about sleep and explained the science behind their inaccuracies. Get ready for some debunking!

1. As we get older, we need less sleep.

Older people can’t generate sleep as sufficiently, but they do in fact need just as much, if not more sleep than young to middle-aged adults. Evidence shows that as you age, some parts of the brain deteriorate more quickly than others, and unfortunately those that generate sleep atrophy more quickly than other parts of the brain. If you’re getting older and noticing that you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, seek help from a sleep professional.

why we sleep, what happens when we sleep?

2. You can acclimate to sleeping less, and eventually just need less sleep.

Habituation doesn’t change in terms of the body’s needs to function optimally. Your subjective sense of how well you’re doing on very few hours of sleep is not a good predictor of your objective state of alertness and functionality. You don’t know the consequences of sleep deprivation when you’re sleep deprived, just as someone who’s had a few drinks can’t quite tell that they probably shouldn’t get behind the wheel. This analogy is especially disturbing, because it’s been convincingly demonstrated that driving while exhausted is frighteningly more dangerous than driving while tipsy.

Human beings are the only species that deliberately deprive themselves of sleep. No other organism does this. There’s no evolutionary strategy to help us overcome sleep deprivation. 

3. If you need to stay up during the week, you can make it up on the weekend.

You can’t pay off your week’s sleep debt by binge sleeping on the weekends. Walker calls this one “sleep bulimia,” because it’s a binge/purge situation. The truth is, your brain never makes back up all the sleep it lost on the night of deprivation. Sleep allows us to sufficiently store the day’s information, so when we deprive ourselves within the first 24 hours of learning something new, we are far less able to store it for later use. Recovery sleep does not resolve this problem unless we relearn the information and sleep adequately immediately following (within 24 hours).

Today’s Action Item

I hope this information didn’t PUT you to sleep, but MOTIVATED you to take the necessary measures to strive for deep, restorative, consistent sleep. Last week, I shared one of the top 10 tips for getting a great night’s sleep:

Sleep Tip #1: Your bedroom is only for sleeping (and sex). Train your brain to associate your bed with sleeping and eliminate anything that could create racing thoughts or non-sleep in the bedroom.

This week, I’ll share the second tip for you to work on between now and next time when I’ll share the whole list. 

why we sleep, what happens when we sleep?

 

If you missed part 1 of this series: 8 Reasons to get 8 Hours, go check it out!


Sources for today’s post:

Inquiring Minds Podcast with Matt Walker: Why Did We Evolve to Sleep

http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/excessive-sleepiness-10/diabetes-lack-of-sleep

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/12/05/lack-of-sleep.aspx

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2015-07-sleep-deprived-brain-friends-foes.html

Why We Sleep: 8 Reasons to Get 8 Hours

“Somewhere between infancy and even childhood now, we abandoned the notion that sufficient sleep is necessary.” – Matt Walker, Principal Investigator at UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab

How do you decide how much sleep you need? Is it really a decision, or is it more of a function of what your lifestyle allows? What if you can’t fall asleep or stay asleep? How does the amount you sleep and the quality really affect your health and performance? I plan to address these questions in my new series, Why We Sleep.

why we sleep, how much is enough sleep?

I know I did a two-part series already called Sleep Better a while back, but I promise there’s a ton of new and intriguing information that isn’t repeated from that series, so stick with me; you might be surprised at what you find out. And my hope is that what you learn will motivate you to get the sleep you need as consistently as you possibly can!

In this series, I will cover:

  1. Prioritizing Sleep
  2. How Much Sleep is Enough
  3. The Health Risks of Not Sleeping Enough (8 Reasons to get 8 Hours)
  4. What Happens When We Sleep
  5. Misconceptions About Sleep
  6. 10 Tips for Good Sleep Hygiene

We’ll cover the first three on this list today and start you off with one tip to work on for the week.

Prioritizing Sleep

Sleep is one of those things we all need but don’t always prioritize properly. Lately I’ve noticed myself getting caught up in post-work activities and then looking up at the clock to realize it’s 10:45pm and I haven’t started doing anything to prepare for sleep. My usual routine is to be in bed by 10:30, so this new (bad) habit of mine can cut into my sleep schedule by as much as an hour — and I can definitely feel it when I wake up in the morning. 

Understanding the role sleep plays in our health and wellbeing can help us understand why it’s so important to prioritize sleep, whether it’s in the form of greater discipline around a sleep routine (as is the case for me) or in the form of seeking help (as is the case for those with sleep pathologies like insomnia or sleep apnea).

After having a long conversation with a friend late into the evening on the topic of sleep challenges, I decided to revisit an episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast, Why Did We Evolve to Sleep? When this episode first aired, I sent it out to everyone I know who has trouble sleeping, and sadly, it was a pretty long list. According to Matt Walker, the expert interviewed in this episode, over 70 MILLION Americans have trouble sleeping. That’s completely insane to me, but just based on what I know of the people in my life, I believe it’s an accurate estimate. 

How Much Sleep is “Enough”?

“Humans are the only organism on earth that intentionally deprives ourselves of sleep for no reason.” – Matt Walker

I can honestly say that I’ve never subscribed to the colloquialism, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” I LOVE sleeping. In fact, I’m a pretty terrible grouch when I don’t get enough sleep (I’d go as far as to say I’m relatively useless). I never believe people who say, “I don’t need to sleep that much. Six hours is enough,” because I can’t personally fathom doing that for more than one night in a row without completely losing my mind. But that’s just my personal take on the topic.

What does the science say? 

To best answer that question, we first have to understanding that our brains need a minimum amount of time to achieve both types of sleep (REM and non-REM) and all the stages of sleep (of which there are 4). And we go through these types and stages in cycles throughout the night. Based on what’s accomplished in these distinct components of sleep, research has confirmed what we’ve been told for years — we (adults) need about eight hours of sleep in each 24 hour cycle to stay healthy and function properly (source 1, source 2, source 3). If we get less than 7 hours of sleep, performance and health impairments become scientifically measurable and significant a lot more quickly that you might think. Our ability to bounce back from sleep debt is surprisingly limited.

In fact, consistently short-sleeping ourselves has been linked to a host of health problems, including a shocking number of chronic diseases. 

Sleeping Enough is Vitally Important for Good Health

why we sleep, how much is enough sleep?

photo in this image taken by Mike Durkin, color balance altered, sourced through Creative Commons

Avoiding disease and enhancing good health all seem like pretty strong motivations to find a way to prioritize sleep, but sometimes the prospect of long-term health problems isn’t quite motivation enough to change behavior (otherwise we’d all be skipping dessert and eating a lot more kale!). Sometimes we need more immediate benefit to take action. What if I told you that measurable impairments in brain function can take place in as little as one poor night of sleep? Don’t believe me? It turns out that sleep-deprived folks have a very poor ability to recognize the impairments they’re experiencing while they’re sleep deprived. It’s a lot like a drunk driver when you think about it — you’ve had a few drinks and you think you’re fine, but compared to your sober self, you’re definitely impaired. If you think you’re performing at your best on 5 or 6 hours of sleep per night, chances are your perspective is a bit skewed. 

We’ll talk a bit more about sleep deprivation, what happens when we sleep, and which processes take place when we’re asleep (and only when we’re asleep) in next week’s installment, but in the meantime I don’t want to leave you empty-handed. Let’s get you started on the journey to deep, restorative sleep!

Get some ZZs

The best way to ensure good quality sleep (getting to sleep, staying asleep, and feeling rested upon waking) is to start good habits and create a good sleep environment. Practicing good sleep hygiene and listening to the signals your body is giving you that it’s time to hit the hay take time to learn and implement consistently. By the end of this series, you’ll have a solid list of 10 tips for excellent sleep hygiene, but for today I’m just going to share the first one to get you started. Incremental change is the way to go, so by the time you get to next Tuesday’s post, you’ll be ready for tip #2!

Sleep Tip

why we sleep, how much is enough sleep? how much sleep do we need?


Sources for information on health risks in infographic above:

1. Stroke
2. Cardiovascular disease
3. Diabetes (Inquiring Minds Podcast linked at top of post)
4. Anxiety
5. Depression
6. Immune Function (Inquiring Minds Podcast linked at top of post)
7. Cancer 
8. Alzheimer’s Disease


FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains an affiliate link, which means I may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. I only link to products that I USE and LOVE. All opinions are my own.

Time to Unplug: Why Downtime Makes You More Creative

Are you someone who gets really great thinking done in the shower? Did your last great idea come to you when you were scrubbing your belly or rinsing your hair? Or maybe you like to sing in there — or even zone out completely, losing time as the steam rises. Either way, don’t you just love a nice long shower? I sure do. It occurred to me the other day that the shower is one of the few places you can’t take your phone with you. It’s built-in downtime, and for some of us, it’s the only downtime we get.

I, for one, can definitely get addicted to the constant stimulation of having devices at my fingertips. I’ll read my kindle as I walk down the hall to the restroom, or I’ll continue listening to a podcast on my way from the parking lot to my desk. I will fill every potentially silent moment in my brain with input, whether it’s a story, information from the web, a podcast, checking my email, or a phone call. It can reach a level of complete excess before I even realize what I’ve done. I’ll exhaust myself by never letting my brain take a break to roam the imaginary terrain of spontaneous thought.

downtime and creativity

I remember way back in my former life as an aspiring musician — before smart phones — when I had a little notepad on my night stand. Ideas for song lyrics would pop into my head right as I was relaxing into sleep. One song even came to me in the middle of a restless night, and I jumped out of bed and wrote the whole thing in one sitting, music and all. Creative ideas, whether they’re song lyrics, an idea for a painting, a garden idea, a recipe idea, or just something fun to write about, often come to me in those moments of idle thought — of daydreaming. What am I missing out on by filling all that empty space with noise from my phone?

 

Getting Caught up in Being Plugged-in

downtime and creativityAs much as I enjoy being unplugged (one of the motivating factors in my constant retreat to the wilderness), I’ll admit that having this blog has meant being more plugged in than I’ve ever been in my life. It could also be a function of the world at large becoming more and more plugged in and me getting swept away with the times, but to be honest, I’ve historically been relatively resistant to technology that makes me constantly available. I like to disappear from time to time. You might notice that about me if you follow me on twitter — I’m not great about keeping up on weekends, because I’m usually hanging off the side of a rock somewhere, very much in the moment with what I’m doing.

I hung onto my flip phone far longer than most, and from there, I wanted to make sure that the next phone I got did not have an email function. I actively did NOT want to be able to check email from my phone, and nowadays I check it (and Facebook) somewhat ridiculously often. Even when I know nothing new is there, I’ll grab my phone at a stop light and check it. Since when did sitting at a stoplight become so unbearably boring that I can’t sit there and listen to whatever I’m listening to without fidgeting with my phone? And when did being bored become such a burden?

I realize my conundrum when the constant checking reaches a fevered pitch. Then I attempt to ditch the bad habits and regroup to live a more sane life. It lasts for a while, then it slowly creeps back in! I mentioned this same pattern with my coffee addiction a little while back. 

 

Downtime: a Goal on its Own

So what I’m getting at here is that we do actually need the downtime. It’s not expendable. We can’t just wait for our next vacation to get some good quality, deviceless, unscheduled time in. Our bodies, minds, and souls need and deserve more than that to function at their best. In fact, we need daily bouts of downtime in order for creativity to flourish.

downtime and creativityOur brains are doing really important work when we think we’re doing nothing. Letting ourselves get bored pushes us into the subconscious and leads us to some of our best ideas. As we become more and more involved in our devices, we spend less and less time allowing our minds to wander, which is where creative sparks and self-exploration originate.

There’s a concept called “autobiographical planning,” the act of mentally planning and anticipating personally relevant future goals, which takes places when our brains are in that idle or daydreaming state. When we fill those empty spaces with our devices (games, Facebook, Instagram, email), the potential for that planning is interrupted or entirely prevented. 

There’s also this idea of productivity that pops into conversations about daydreaming and down time. When we think about being productive, we think about being constantly busy and engaged in our work. But the truth is that without the downtime, we’re actually less productive. We need not only vacation, but a good sleep schedule, a reasonable amount of time away from our work, and again, time to do absolutely nothing. Tony Schwartz, author and CEO shares his secrets for being more productive through relaxation and refers to studies on sleep and vacation, stating that employees who take vacation will be up to 8% more productive at work.

 

Bored and Brilliant

These days, the average mobile consumer spends an average of 2 hours and 57 minutes on their mobile devices daily. In the past, at least some of that time was spent doing nothing with our brains in idle mode — daydreaming — and when we miss out on that, we miss out on spontaneous ideas popping in; potentially brilliant ideas! In googling around for today’s post, I came across a project that WNYC launched through their show (and podcast) Note to Self. In February of this year, the Bored and Brilliant project challenged listeners to do less on their phones — and with technology in general. I mean, the catch is that the info they share comes to you via email and podcast, but we haven’t figure out telepathy yet so I think it’s a fair way to play at this point. I love this idea of a collective effort to put down our phones and zone out. I know I’m a little late to the game, but I decided to sign up.

It’s time to program some boredom into my schedule and see what ideas emerge. My goal is not only to create some lasting changes in the way I deal with my devices, but to reignite the spirit of my former musical self. Maybe a song will come, maybe something else, but I bet what does come will be brilliant!

And you should try it too! Sign up for Bored and Brilliant and let me know how it goes for you. Maybe we can swap our creative ideas when our boredom sparks our brilliance!

downtime and creativity

Resetting My Sleep Cycle with MindBody Sessions

As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed lately. I’ve allowed a coffee habit to creep back into my life over the last two weeks or so, and yesterday was the first day I started to tamp it back down with diluted black tea. No headache yet, so I think we’re in good shape. I can tell when I’ve had coffee for too many days in a row when my jaw seizes up on the first sip. I can actually feel myself giving myself a headache. (Yes, a lack of coffee AND too much coffee both give me a headache. Probably a sign that I shouldn’t drink it.) People don’t usually believe me when I say that coffee makes me clench my jaw, but it does if I drink it too much, and I reached that threshold earlier this week and continued to drink coffee til yesterday morning. I finally decided to start listening to my body and am cutting it out again.

My love for the flavor of coffee is always what brings me back. My general cycle is to banish it, then start allowing decaf Americanos only on weekends, then inch my way up to half-caf, then start having an occasional weekday morning cup. Then I realize I’ve had it every day for a week. Then I think, “Well I feel fine, so maybe it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to …” Then I continue to drink it for another week or so, until one day it just hits me; my jaw starts feeling tight, and I have to start the cycle over again. It usually goes in about two-month waves. Does this sound like an addiction to you? Maybe just a slightly dysfunctional relationship … but it’s so delicious!

Mindbody Sessions

By Kenny Louie from Vancouver, Canada (Coffee break Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

SLEEEEP

Part of the problem is that I haven’t been sleeping all that soundly. I’ve been going to bed too late, watching TV too late (which I know I shouldn’t do, but Daredevil is SO GOOD), and having trouble falling asleep once I lay down (I wonder why). Dexter has allergies this time of year, so she wakes up around 4am and scratches violently, shaking the whole bed and waking me up, just about every morning. Then I fall back into a deep sleep until my alarm goes off at 7am. 

I’ve been using a sleep tracking app that claims to wake me up at a good point in my sleep cycle so that I’m ready to get out of bed and seize the day each morning. I think it works, but being physically ready doesn’t make me psychologically ready. Out of habit, I press snooze, snuggle with Dex, and fade back to sleep. At this point it’s pretty-much Pavlovian, even though I want to get up, and I know that every time I press snooze I’m just going to feel more tired when the alarm goes off again. I just can’t seem to stop myself from doing it. Lately it’s been taking me an average of 30 minutes to get out of bed from when the alarm goes off.

MindBody Sessions

How do I get out of bed with these two still sleeping in there? 

Resetting my Sleep Cycle: Lights Out

I clearly need to reset my sleep cycle to get back on track. We know that poor sleep affects gut health. We know that gut health affects weight and skin health, and we know that my own weight and skin, in particular, are super sensitive to a disrupted gut. So for me, it’s not just about feeling better, it’s about vanity.

And what motivates people more than vanity?

Ok, I’m sure a lot of things, but guess what, it’s a big motivator. Let’s just come out with it. 

Resetting my sleep cycle is going to mean getting back to practicing what I preach. The biggest one is making sure I’m turning off my devices — including the TV — at least an hour before bed. I also bought some blue light blocking glasses (affiliate link) to wear if I’m watching TV at night, but lately I’ve been too lazy to find them and put them on. Starting last night, I’m committed to wearing those for any screen usage after sunset. I also have F.lux on my home computer — a blue light blocking software that syncs up with your time zone and fades the blue light out of your screen as the sun goes down — but I think that my overall computer usage probably needs to power down a little earlier each night. I do love the apps that block out the blue light though. I used to have one called Twilight on my Android phone, but there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent app for my new iPhone. I’m waiting for AppleTV to make one for the the big screen. In the meantime, I have my nerdy glasses.

My New Meditation App: MindBody Sessions

I’ve been using MindBody Sessions for a couple of months now, and I’m finding some really positive changes happening when I use it consistently. MindBody Sessions is an app chalk-full of guided meditations and relaxing “radio” scientifically studied and shown to aid in the various capacities specified on the app (sleep training, stress management, pain in various capacities, etc). I’ve mostly focused on the sleep training features of the app, and I can honestly say that the ones I’ve tried (there are so many, maybe hundreds) are really helpful. Last night I started my bedtime routine a little bit earlier. I was physically exhausted but was having racing thoughts, so I played the track “Relax into Sleep” as I settled in for the night. Following the recorded voice and relaxing into the soothing sounds in the background, I faded off to sleep before the recording was over. My fancy app that I use for sleep tracking said that my sleep was 96% efficient last night, and I woke up this morning feeling more rested than I have in at least ably two weeks. (I mentioned that this app is great when I’m consistent with it, and I haven’t been using it the last couple of weeks.) Mindbody Sessions

In tandem with tempering my electronics and cutting the coffee, I plan to use MindBody Sessions to get myself back on track. I’m hoping it will be a quick turnaround, and based on last night, I think it will be.

No one at MindBody Sessions paid me to give their app a little love, but I’m crossing my fingers that they’ll partner with me at some point in the future, possibly to become my first official sponsor. In the spirit of full transparency, I thought I’d share that with you.


FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains an affiliate link (CWB Favorite Picks), which means I may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. I only link to products that I USE and LOVE. All opinions are my own.

Gratitude: How the Finest Nurses in Oakland Adjusted My Attitude

It’s official! I’m in full recovery mode from this seemingly never ending wrist injury! After nearly 4 months out of the gym, I’m BACK and climbing about 90% as hard as I was when I got hurt. I’m almost there! I no longer have to worry about tweaking my wrist picking something up, twisting my hand too abruptly, constantly being careful not to reach for something too quickly, or holding something for too long with my thumb out. I can type all day — with proper stretching and breaks (which I probably should have been doing in the first place) — and most importantly, I can CLIMB! 

2015-01-27 10.13.41

I used acupuncture as part of my treatment for about 2 months during the healing process. On this particular day, I couldn’t believe how many needles she got in there, so I had to document it. 

Outside Season!

We went out to the Tahoe area to climb a couple of weekends back and I couldn’t wait to get on the rock. It was my first time back out in 2015, and I had a whole new appreciation for the sport after having to take such a long break. I didn’t complain about the long approaches, I tried just about every climb I could, and I kept up a positive attitude even when things got hard. Intending to climb at Lover’s Leap, we ended up at Hog’s Back the first day on the wrong route in direct sun after getting a pretty late start. Loren was really mad, but I brushed it off and kept smiling. It was AWESOME. I surprised myself following Loren up a pretty tricky 10A at Hog’s Back and then exhausted myself the next day with a thirty minute vertical approach to Sugarloaf and another long 10A. When we got back down to the van on Sunday, I was so happy to be completely wiped out. It had been too long! 

gratitude

Setbacks and Life Lessons

I just got home from a week in Texas, and getting back in the gym after a week off was pretty deflating. It’s amazing what you lose from just a week. It comes back quickly, but that first day in the gym can be a bit of a bummer sometimes if you aren’t mentally prepared. I found myself getting frustrated, cussing, yelling, kicking (if you’ve ever climbed outside with me before, you’ve seen this super charming side of me), and I just quit a route after failing to complete a tough move. I completely lost my focus and ended our session shortly after that. Not a great first day back at all after all the progress I made in April. 

Over the last two days I’ve been working with the nurses at Highland Hospital on relaxation and stress management. It’s National Nurses’ Week, and as the wellness program manager of a large chain of hospitals in Alameda County, I helped set up relaxation rooms with an essential oil diffuser and did guided meditation with the nurses on each floor. Part of our work together has been discussing how we set our intentions each morning and how we prepare for bed each night. I was struck by the amazing positivity these nurses expressed. So many of them said they wake up with gratitude every morning, and that they wind down in the evenings in just the same way. It occurred to me that the job of nursing might very well be impossible if not for routines like this. We also talked about how we use our hands as healers. We shared a gentle reflexology hand massage, and in doing this work, I finally connected the dots.

gratitude

Gratitude for My Health

My hands are a gift. When my dominant hand was injured, I realized just how much I need it every minute of every day. I really need my thumb! There were times over the course of the healing process that I thought it would never get any better, and that I was doomed to a miserable, limited, injured life forever. (Not that I’m dramatic or anything.) I got down about my injury quite a few times over the course of the last few months, and when I finally got back into the gym, I was so happy I could cry. My first trip back outside was pure bliss. 

But those feelings fade quickly, and it’s all too easy to sink back into an unconscious state of taking my health for granted.

I’ve been back in the gym for one month, and on my first bad day I had the same crappy attitude I tended to have before I got injured in the first place. It was like I’d learned nothing. These nurses have reminded me of just how lucky I am. Through their example of daily gratitude and positivity in the face of taking care of some of the sickest patients in the county, they’ve inspired me to recognize and appreciate what I have.

I have the use of my thumb again. I can sleep through the night without accidentally tweaking it and waking up to sharp pain in my wrist. I don’t have to wear a clumsy brace on my dominant hand. I can type without pain. I can live my passion and climb again. I have my health, and that lesson in gratitude is the gift I’ve received in sharing self-care techniques with some of the finest nurses in Oakland.

Thank You Highland Hospital!

A New Look at those 10 Vanity Pounds

10 vanity pounds self image

image created by Frank Kovalchek sourced through Creative Commons

Oh vanity — we all have a little bit, right? We all want to look our best at least some of the time, don’t we? I’ll admit that the beginning of my journey into the health and wellness field was fueled by equal parts vanity and curiosity. I wanted to know why I ate better food and less of it than friends who were thinner. I wanted to know why my skin wouldn’t clear up. I wanted to know why I could work so hard in the gym and never lose any weight, why I had constant dark circles under my eyes. I wanted to pick apart everything I didn’t like about myself and fix it with food and nutrition. That’s what got me started on my path, and to be completely transparent, some of those feelings of insecurity haven’t gone away even though some of the problems have been solved.

The truth is I’ve been playing tug of war with my self-image my entire life. Most people who know me — even those who know me well — consider me one of the most confident people they know. For the most part, it’s true that my confidence is above average, but there’s definitely a darker side to my self-image. I have battled those few “vanity pounds” my whole life. I’ve struggled with my shape, been frustrated with the size of my waist, gone as far as asking my best friend and roommate in college to say, “Don’t eat that, cow,” if I wanted to eat something fattening while I was dieting (he refused — good friend that he is).

Confession: I’ve been known to look at an old picture — say from high school — and think “Wow, I thought I was fat then! Look how thin I was. Now I’m really fat.”

Raise your hand if you’ve done this.

CUT IT OUT!!!

Old Habits Die Hard

I grew up hearing my tiny grandmother say, “I gotta get rid of this belly!” It’s something I’ve always made a joke about (it was super endearing), but in retrospect, I wonder if it didn’t affect the way I saw myself and my value when I was forming my identity. I learned that being small/skinny was a better way to be — and this message was reinforced everywhere around me in the usual ways: TV, magazines, pop stars (I was obsessed with Madonna as a kid). Nothing new here, right?

In the 80’s people were obsessed with leotards, leggings, and sweat bands. I had a “workout” birthday party in elementary school. I practiced Jane Fonda exercise videos and danced to Body Electric on TV at a laughably young age. I was strangely obsessed with Karen Carpenter and her anorexia story, even though I myself have never had an eating disorder.

In pictures and in life, at around age 8, I started noticing that my waist was bigger than those of my friends. I was tiny, but I was already comparing myself to everyone else. I was shorter and thicker than my friends and it bothered me, even then. Before puberty, before boyfriends, I noticed it and it bothered me. And that’s been the case my whole life, even at my absolute fittest.

Wedding Weight

I got married in 2012, and I lost about 12 pounds leading up to my wedding. I’ve since gained nearly all of it back. It took me almost three years, but rest assured, it’s back. At my wedding weight, I was obsessive. I weighed myself literally every day. I monitored all my food. I freaked out if I gained one pound. And still, at my goal weight, I wanted to be shaped differently. I wanted to lose weight in different places. I looked in the mirror and squeezed my belly and wished it would go away. I bought clothes just a tiny bit snug to “motivate me” to lose more. 

10 vanity pounds self image

Over the last 2.5 years, I’ve slowly inched back toward my original weight — a weight I was fine with until I started losing. But I wasn’t until I got hurt that the last 7(ish) pounds brought me back to square one. And it was really bothering me until I realized something I wish I’d realized a long time ago.

The Eye of the Beholder

I realized that my mood was more a determinant of what I saw in the mirror than my weight.

I realized that if I’m feeling good about myself, I look awesome in the mirror at any weight. I realized that 12 pounds ago, I was trapping myself in this paranoid box obsessing about every little thing I ate, and it was sucking the fun out of being a thinner me. Maybe I’ll return to that weight now that I’m back in the gym consistently, and maybe I won’t. Either way though, I want to be HAPPY in my own skin and not constantly monitoring the scale in the crazy, militant way I was 12 pounds ago.

When I look at the pictures from my honeymoon, I might see the slight difference between then and now, but I realize today that I didn’t feel any better about myself back then — and that’s what matters in the end. Back then I felt desperate to hold on to my new thinner body, yet still unsatisfied with it, which made the accomplishment of losing the weight bittersweet. I didn’t appreciate it as much as I’d fantasized I would before I lost it. In fact, at 130 lbs, I felt a little weak and tired and actually chose to put a few pounds back on. 

I realized that I am happier now, not standing on a scale every day, enjoying indulgences in moderation without guilt. I realized that chasing those few vanity pounds just makes me feel bad, and that as long as I am healthy, feel strong in my body, fit into my clothes (which I do), take good care of myself, and enjoy my physical form, that little bit of extra weight doesn’t matter.

In the end, chasing those few pounds doesn’t accomplish anything except self-criticism, but self-acceptance frees up that space in my mind to focus on the things that really matter. Like this guy.

10 vanity pounds self image

Your Challenge

Today I challenge you to appreciate what you have and who you are. I challenge you to be present in the moment and in your body, to love yourself just as you are, to find beauty and gratitude in the mirror. There will always be aspects of our physical form that we wish were different. Some are urgent and real health risks, but some are just a result of early programming and “old habits” that we have the power to undo and free ourselves from.

I challenge you to examine your health and fitness goals and assess what’s real and right for you.

Maybe your high school weight isn’t a realistic goal for you at this point in your life, and getting there would compromise your vibrant health. Maybe you realize that you’ve been ignoring something urgent and finally make the call to your doctor that you’ve been putting off. And maybe, just maybe you realize that what you see in the mirror is a perfect reflection of who you are, and those 10 vanity pounds really don’t matter as much as you thought they did. 

Why Gut Health Matters: Your Mood

What if I told you that the phrase “gut feeling” was less of a metaphor and more of a literal experience? What if I told you that what you eat, how well you absorb and synthesize it, and the effect it has on your gut lining could actually alter your moods and behaviors? Would you think twice before you ate that chili cheese dog that gives you heartburn every single time you eat it? Or that milkshake that leaves you bloated and farting for 3 days? 

gut health and mood disorders

image author Vistawhite, sourced from Wikipedia through Creative Commons

Last week we talked about our gut as “gate keeper,” and how chronic inflammation begets chronic disease. This week, we’re covering gut health and mood. More specifically, how a healthy gut creates a healthy mood(When I say mood, I mean a mood state, not necessarily a fleeting emotion. Negative mood states present as mood disorders such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. Positive mood states present as relaxation, resilience, happiness, and balance.) There’s a pretty remarkable feedback loop between the gut and the brain — the gut-brain axis  and it starts with the enteric nervous system. 

Your Other Brain

Have you ever heard the term “gut brain?” More generally, did you know that our nervous system is comprised of multiple systems that reach far beyond the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord)? Indeed, the nervous system is split into two major components: the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system then splits into the autonomic and somatic systems, and part of the autonomic system is what we’ll be talking about today: the enteric nervous system.

Embedded in the lining of our gut, the enteric nervous system plays a crucial role in our health and wellbeing, including our emotional health. It has an estimated 100 million neurons — more neurons than our spinal cord — along with its own neurotransmitters and proteins that have the ability to communicate, learn and even remember. It’s entirely autonomous from the central nervous system, governing about 90% of the messages that operate the gut, but the two systems communicate to ensure that our bodies function properly. Because of this unique independence from the brain in our skulls, the enteric nervous system in our bowels is often called our “second brain.”  

Now that I’ve given you an Anatomy and Physiology speed round, what does it all mean? 

It means your gut does a lot more than extract nutrients from your food and poop out the waste. It has a direct line to the brain, and it’s constantly communicating with it. If your gut is inflamed and leaky, chances are your brain is also inflamed and leaky. You’ve probably heard the term blood-brain barrier; it’s the shield that prevents substances in the blood from flowing freely into the brain, including medications, allergens, antigens, and other inflammatory agents such as excess cortisol or insulin. In short, it’s the brain’s “gate keeper.” Does that sound familiar? We have a blood-gut barrier too, and last week we talked about what happens when that barrier is compromised. Well guess what else is compromised when our gut wall is compromised: our brain wall. 

inflamed gut = overactive immune system = inflamed brain = depression

leaky gut = leaky brain 

How do I know if I have Leaky Brain??

I mentioned very briefly at the end of last week’s post that mood disorders are a sure-fire sign of a leaky gut/brain. In fact I said, “Find me a person with anxiety and no digestive problems, and I’ll find you a fire-breathing dragon with tiny purple wings at your local pet store.” (That might be the first time in history that I quoted myself.) Here’s a short list of indicators that you could have a leaky gut/brain:

  • foggy headed-ness
  • poor concentration
  • poor short-term memory
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • irritability (short fuse)
  • hyperactivity (possibly ADHD)gluten-free

In my first eBook, I shared with you that when I eliminated gluten from my diet, I noticed that I felt more clear-headed and less drowsy and foggy. I noticed not only that redness in my acne-prone skin was reduced, but also that my skin was less sensitive in general. I noticed that I had been waking up every morning with a stuffy nose thinking that was normal.

No, it’s not normal. I had a gluten sensitivity, and it was causing a leaky gut, an overactive immune response, and a leaky brain. When I eliminated gluten and healed my gut with bone broth, all of those symptoms I just mentioned dissipated.

Eating foods that inflame your gut will inflame your brain. A chronic assault on the brain by inflammatory cytokines can eventually cause neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease. If you know that you’re allergic to certain foods, and you continue to eat them, you are guaranteeing a disturbance in your brain, whether it’s as mild as poor performance or as serious as a clinical mood disorder or Parkinson’s.

The Pharmacy in Your Gut

Dopamine

There are equal amounts of dopamine in the brain and in the gut. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that signals reward, motivation, love, and lust, but it’s also responsible for fear, apathy, psychosis, addiction, and ADHD. It’s a powerful chemical that needs to be maintained at proper levels in the body in order to keep that second list of characteristics at bay.

Dopamine also plays a role in our level of satiety and sense of reward when we eat, but we’ll talk about that when we cover weight gain in another part of this series.

Serotonin

95% of the serotonin running through our bodies at any given moment is found and made in the gut, and from there, the brain takes over and converts some of that serotonin into melatonin — the hormone that helps us fall asleep and stay asleep. The food we eat supplies our bodies with the fuel (in the form of tryptophan) to create serotonin. When we eat tryptophan-rich food, the small intestine converts it into 5-HTP, which is then converted to serotonin. Problems arise for our mood if one of those two steps is faulty due to … say it with me! … inflammation. If the small intestine is inflamed and the gut is leaky, we cannot properly convert tryptophan into 5-HTP, which means we don’t make enough serotonin.

Not only is serotonin important for our moods, it’s also important for proper gut motility. If you’ve ever taken an SSRI for anxiety or depression, then you might have experienced some of the digestive disturbances that come along with it. 

Melatoninsleep better

This one is actually made in the brain, but its synthesis is entirely dependent on serotonin, most of which is found in the gut. If your brain can’t make melatonin, you won’t get good quality sleep. Poor sleep means that our bodies aren’t able to adequately clear inflammation and damaged tissue as we move through the stages of sleep, which means we wake up in the morning just as inflamed as when we went to bed. And the cycle continues.

Low levels of melatonin are also associated with increased risk of cancer — another chronic disease rooted in inflammation.

How to Make Changes Today

Last week we talked about the role of bacteria in keeping the gut lining intact, and this week we covered mood disorders and neurological issues that could result from leaky gut and leaky brain. Addressing gut health will eventually become part of a medical treatment plan for patients with mood disorders, but in the meantime, here are some things you can do:

Lock the gate! 

Eliminating processed (inflammatory) foods, drinking bone broth, and feeding the good bacteria is a good place to start. Adding more live cultured foods to your diet, like sauerkraut, kefir, kim chee or the wild pickle recipe I shared on Friday, will help keep those good bugs happy and ensure they stick around and reproduce. Not only are healthy gut bacteria crucial in maintaining the gut lining, they are also crucial in making B-Complex. Deficiencies in B vitamins have been linked to depression, low energy, and decreased cognition.

gut health and mood disorders

imaged sourced through Creative Commons from pixababy

Get to bed.

Creating a consistent sleep schedule that follows our circadian rhythm (even on weekends!) will help us get back on track. Doing this not only affects our mood but also the type of bacteria living in the gut, which help perpetuate the good work we’re doing to keep our gut linings sealed.

Studies show that using a morning light box treatment (mimicking the sunrise) is as effective as antidepressants on alleviating depression. Talk to your doctor before starting a light box treatment, as there are some potential side effects that need to be discussed professionally.

Thanksgiving year-round! 

No, I don’t mean you should spend more time watching your family pass out on the couch in a food coma; it’s all about that turkey and stuffing (or sweet potatoes, as it were)!sleepymealEating foods rich in tryptophan is another way to ensure that you have adequate supplies to make serotonin. But the trick is to make sure you follow it up with a small portion of carbohydrates, which help deliver the goods to the right place for conversion. Of course, at Thanksgiving, we don’t eat anything in moderation, so do with that what you will…

Here’s a quick list of foods rich in tryptophan:

  • Egg whites (greatest source)
  • Seaweed
  • Soy nuts
  • Cottage cheese
  • Chicken livers
  • Turkey (the most famous source due to our relaxed state after Thanksgiving dinner)
  • Chicken
  • Tofu
  • Milk 

Hit the Pavement

Research is demonstrating a direct connection between exercise and the growth of good bacteria in the gut. By now, I don’t need to repeat why good bacteria help prevent leaky gut/brain and inflammation. 

The endorphins released in exercise also act as a pain reliever and can provide a sense of euphoria for the exerciser — you’ve heard the term “runner’s high.” Not to mention, it just feels good to move, which can increase our self-esteem. 

running shoes

photo taken by Josiah Mackenzie and sourced through Creative Commons

 Regular exercise has been proven to:

  • Reduce stress
  • Ward off anxiety and feelings of depression
  • Boost self-esteem
  • Improve sleep (from WebMD)

What’s Next?

On Friday I’ll be sharing a delicious, grain-free breakfast recipe rich in tryptophan. In the meantime, have a look at my 2-part series on sleep to find out how you can get your sleep on track to help keep your gut health in order and heal a leaky brain. 

Why Your iPhone is Ruining Your Sleep

How to Create a Sleep-Conducive Life

In case you missed the first installment of Why Gut Health Matters, check it out here


Sources for this segment of this series include a 6-credit continuing education seminar presented by Merrily Kuhn, RN, CCRN (r), PhD, ND, PhD and the Institute of Brain Potential (bibliography and references can be viewed here), and information from the following articles, journals, and experts:

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01537589

http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Enteric_nervous_system

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/07/what_is_dopamine_love_lust_sex_addiction_gambling_motivation_reward.html

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/vitamin-b12-and-depression/faq-20058077

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16648320

http://psycheducation.org/treatment/bipolar-disorder-light-and-darkness/light-therapies-for-depression/

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-bacteria-may-exacerbate-depress/

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/the-truth-about-tryptophan?page=2 

http://gut.bmj.com/content/early/2014/04/29/gutjnl-2013-306541.abstract

Chris Kresser: http://chriskresser.com/

Dr. Sara Gottfried: http://www.saragottfriedmd.com/

Mindfulness and Wellbeing: My New Year’s Resolution

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to start a mindful meditation practice. I have been talking about it on and off for the past 6 months, and though I’ve attempted to start a morning routine a few times, all attempts have been false starts — that snooze button is just too tempting! My sister has been getting into mindfulness lately, and for Christmas she asked me to get her a book that illustrates an 8-week plan for cultivating a mindfulness practice. I started reading it too, and I’m hoping it will help me stay on track, as trying on my own has barely gotten me anywhere. (Even coaches need guidance!)

Why Mindfulness Meditation?

Surely you’ve heard of this word, “mindfulness”? Possibly at a yoga class or in therapy? Maybe on talk radio or in a weight loss group? I’ve written a post on mindful eating, but a mindfulness practice extends far beyond eating behavior and into how we interface with the world (and all the wonderful things that lie within it). Becoming mindful isn’t something that just magically happens overnight. Rather we have to cultivate our awareness, and as such, having a teacher, a book to follow, a set of guidelines, or even an app can be helpful to get started.

Mindful meditation (a practice rooted in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) has been shown in scientific studies to be as effective as prescription antidepressants to reduce depression and anxiety — and with none of the side effects. In fact, it’s the preferred treatment in most cases. But importantly, even those without depression and anxiety can benefit from this modality. Whether we practice mindfulness for stress management or for a renewed sense of how we see ourselves, both in our bodies and in the world, it’s a useful tool to improve our emotional wellbeing every day.  

mindfulness meditation

Inner Gaze by Alice Pennes of Avenues of Artistry. Click to learn more about her work

What is Mindfulness?

“Trying to understand mindfulness by its definition is like trying to understand what it is like to fall in love by reading a textbook. You might get a general idea, but you’d be missing out on the best part: what it actually feels like. Mindfulness is all about experience, about the actual aliveness, of each moment. You learn to pay attention on purpose, in the present moment, not because someone said that it would be a good thing to do, but because that is where you find your life.”
             – Michael Baime, MD (creator of mindfulness-based programs at University of Pennsylvania)

This word mindfulness is elusive and intriguing to some, heavy and burdensome to others — the second attitude is often enhanced if the word “meditation” comes right after the word “mindfulness.” There can be some pretty heavy associations with meditation. I’ve even had a colleague tell me that she didn’t want to return to a yoga class (after her very first time ever) because she felt that the meditation conflicted with her religious beliefs. I was simultaneously surprised and not at all fazed. It’s just as easy to misunderstand meditation and the intentions of the practice as it is to be intimidated by the stillness and silence that often accompanies it.

The truth of the matter is that mindful meditation is a personal centering practice — not rooted in religion but in behavioral therapy — and while there are countless other forms of meditation, some of which include chanting, it’s possible to receive the benefits of meditation without contradicting any religious practices.

Starting Small

I’ve mentioned before that meditation doesn’t have to be this extreme, long, painstakingly silent process. Rather, it can just be the active experience of breathing — mindful breathing — for short periods of time. The book I’m reading even provides a 1-minute meditation in the first chapter. Noticing your body, noticing the details of how you feel, allowing thoughts to pass through your mind without judgement, and then letting them melt away — this practice is a brief mindful meditation, a tremendous tool for dealing with stress, appreciating life, and overall wellbeing.

My Personal Journey

To be perfectly candid, sitting still without some sort of stimulus is a challenge for me. I might not be theologically threatened by meditation, but I’ve spent a good bit of time working out my own preconceived notions about the practice, just because I’m not great at sitting still.

I’m actually not great at walking with a still mind either. I go through regular phases where I won’t get up from my desk to do anything at all (get a snack, go to the bathroom, walk to my car) without a book in my hand or a podcast in my ear; reading and walking, listening and walking. Why do I crave constant stimulation? Part of this mindfulness practice will be unpacking the stories I tell myself. Maybe one of them is that I don’t have time to read, so I fit it in minute by minute by never doing anything without text in front of my eyes or ear buds in my ears. Maybe that’s true, and maybe it’s not. I suppose I’ll find out.

When I envision a full picture of holistic wellbeing, I see food, movement, creativity, sleep, personal growth, and connection with nature, spirit, and community. I’m approaching this year’s resolution around mindfulness with the intention of touching on quite a few of these components in my own wellbeing. I mentioned mindful eating (food), but this practice will also provide me with tools to help turn off my mind when it’s time for sleep. Mindfulness is also crucial for personal growth and understanding how I affect those around me and in my community. It’s a way to acknowledge that my existence matters and that the decisions I make have an effect. By creating inner stillness and awakening my senses, I will interact with the world around me from a place of deep peace.  

Let’s do it together!mindfulness meditation

Have you been contemplating a mindfulness practice of your own? Why don’t you join me? The book I’m reading is called Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World, by Marc Williams and Danny Penman. Click the title for the paperback version.  Click here for the Kindle version. Using these links will help me out if you decide to get a copy. You can also get a sample through the kindle e-reader for free if you want to get a peak at the beginning of the book. As I move through the book, I’ll be posting about my experience and what I learn — knowing that you’re waiting to hear from me will help hold me accountable, in addition to (hopefully) shedding some more light on this topic.

 

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