Sunday, March 31, 2013

DIY Health

Ah, it's been a while since I did a formally organized challenge.  What better time than now, to get recharged and refreshed for spring?

The folks at are challenging YOU for month of April!  In the DIY Health Challengethere are two goals, that you can fit into your life this month as you see fit:  (1) "cook one healthy meal per day", and (2) "complete 20 minutes of bodyweight exercises daily."  These target specific areas, but are broad enough that it's up to you how you fulfill them.

As a Greatist Ambasssador, I knew I had to accept this challenge.  For me, the cooking one healthy meal per day is pretty much down.  I already prepare most of my meals at home, so that won't take much change.  Twenty minutes of bodyweight exercises, though... At first, I'd thought that it'd be too much. I don't like to do strength-based workouts more than two or three times per week, but by switching up which muscles are working, I should be alright.

Also, I actually just happened to set a personal goal to start doing yoga more regularly again, such as squeezing it in every morning for just 15-30 minutes or so, because I love how it makes me feel!  Yoga is a form of bodyweight exercise, so that can definitely count for some mostly-"rest" days.  This challenge may be just the motivation I need to keep it up!

Don't know what kind of workouts to do?  Greatist will be posting all kinds of exercises throughout the challenge, and the community support should keep participants going, too.

There's a cool website called Social Workout, where you can join this challenge (and countless others).  The challenge can be a clean eating or workout challenge like this one for April, or it can be about music or meditation, or a more specific workout type goal.. the possibilities are endless.  For each, there are challenge groups, message boards, and ways to track your progress.  As its name implies, it makes working out a social endeavor, where other challenge participants can cheer you on or give advice.  Very neat.

Dare you to join us!!  As they say, "You don't have to be the greatest, just a Greatist."  Take one month to take charge, and become a Greatist, too.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Stop microwaving plastic!

The dare says it all.

????    NO!!!!!!

I, personally, have a lot of plastic containers.  Someday, when I become a "real person", I will get a beautiful set of glass food storage containers and life will be grand.  They will be matching and organized. They'll stack neatly, and I will be able to cook or microwave in them!

But for now... I've got plastic.

But is that ideal? Probably not, especially microwaving in them.   So if you're like me and use plastic storage containers, please be aware of the chemicals they leak into food, and how microwaving can make it worse.

First, let's just look at plastic.  This material's use in cooking and food preparation has been linked to: hormonal imbalance, various cancers, heart disease, and impaired brain development.

Even before microwaving, these containers can leech estrogenic chemicals in plastic products.  Research has found that more than 70% of common plastics released estrogenic compounds, and that number increased to 95% after the material underwent some sort of "stress," such as being run through the dishwasher or being microwaved.  Then, when you eat the food or drink the drink from a plastic bottle or container, you are ingesting those hormone-like chemicals. Yikes!

Oh, but what about BPA-free plastics, you ask?  BPA free is no better!  All of the BPA containers tested were found to release similar chemicals, and they may have even had more estrogenic activity than their BPA-containing counterparts.

And that's just plastics.  What about the microwave?   

The Angry Trainer recently posted about the microwave debate, so head there to see his opinion on using a microwave, in general, and what it does to the food you put in.  Another dare for another day...

As far as your containers go, "Microwave-safe" only means the product will not MELT in the micrwave, but it says nothing about what happens at the molecular level.  The chemical bonds can still be degraded, allowing chemicals to seep into your food.

Regardless of your opinion on plastics alone, or microwaves alone, there is wide consensus that combining the two should be avoided at all costs.  This past year, I finally officially stopped re-heating my leftovers in their plastic containers.  I'm still storing food in plastic until I can get my dream set of glass, but I make a point of transferring the food to a glass plate or bowl before placing in the microwave to nuke it.  It's just one more plate to wash, but it's worth the minor inconvenience when I remember all the negative effects correlated with the estrogenic chemicals secreted by the plastic.

This is an easy one; it just takes some reminding before it becomes habit.  Once you start transferring to glass before heating, it will become second nature and you'll be encouraging others to follow your lead.


I made the switch; so can you!   I dare you to STOP microwaving plastic. Period.  Or, better, ditch the plastic altogether and opt for glass!!

Do you use plastic containers?  Do you always transfer the food before microwaving, or will this dare maybe be the push you needed? 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday Features

Man, oh man, do I have some great reads for you!  I've just been collecting them and the list grows longer and longer...

Reminder: If you like Friday Features, you can always stay up to date with articles that I find worth sharing by following me on Twitter, because I'm always retweeting similar content!

There is a LOT of nutrition in the news these days, so today is going to be nutrition-heavy.  Maybe next week I'll shift gears to focus on fitness.

[But, before we begin, one fun fitness feature:]
Remember last year's introduction to SlimKicker?  It's this awesome website that helps you tackle challenges you give yourself, to become a better you.  Sound familiar?  Anyway, they're hosting a huge giveaway, where you can win a Bowflex Home Gym, worth over $1000!  They tell us: "This home gym features more than 50 strength building exercises, with resistance ranging from 50 to 210 pounds. It's very convenient, and simple to use, with no cable exchanges needed."  In addition,  three lucky winners will receive a $20 Amazon gift certificate, just for participating! If you're interested, enter here.  Good luck!

Oh, and one more quick fitness share: If you hate touching sweaty, germy machines at the gym (and if you don't win the Bowflex giveaway above), consider getting Handy Bands.  They'll protect your hands from gym equipment, or even other public germ risks, like grocery carts.


Now, on to nutrition: 

This is article I was really excited to see and definitely retweeted a few times:  In Eat Your Heart Out (via NYTimes), Gretchen Reynolds shares new studies that overturn old assumptions about cholesterol and saturated fats.  As many paleo gurus have been spouting for a while, the diet--heart-disease relationship isn't as clear as much popular media and conventional wisdom make it out to be, and the truth may, in fact, be the opposite of what we've been taught.  Whichever camp you're in, this article is a stepping stone that admits that, "at this point, we don't truly understand how it all works."  Scientific study of nutrition is a young field and is constantly evolving and learning.  If you're still stuck in the "butter is bad" and "cholesterol is bad" and "saturdated fats will kill you" phase of knowledge, then please read!
On a similar note, shares the Top 11 Biggest Lies of Mainstream Nutrition, most of which I've come to agree with.  Don't fall victim to these myths! 
Another NYTimes article made a big splash recently: The Extraordinary Science of Junk Food: Things you didn't want to know about the people selling and engineering your favorite bagged and boxed treats.


I may as well stay on the nutrition rant for now--and MORE brought to you by the New York Times!  In How Sweet It Is, David Kamp reviews Michael Moss's Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.  Moss is the investigator who exposed the prevalence of Pink Slime a few years ago, and he, once again, has our health in mind as he investigates other supermarket foods.  This book "continues Moss's hot streak of ace reportage, chronicling the insidious ways in which big food companies, over time, have sneaked more and more of the bad stuff into our diets," the reviewer writes.  If you're interested in learning more, read the review or get yourself a copy of the book.


Speaking of sugar, recently Jenn over at Peas and Crayons went on a rant about the Glorification of Sugar, and, if you enjoy scouting foodie photos online and elsewhere, it's worth a read.  I am ALL for her proposed shift to glorifying vegetables.  I dare you to do the same, and Play with your Produce, like Jenn!
Swapping your nightly sweet treat for a different snack could help you sleep through the night,
according to SHAPE.

I think that's a solid nutritional blow to start your weekend.
Happy reading!

Have you read any noteworthy nutrition articles lately?
What's caught your attention?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Review: Designer Whey Protein

One of my 2013 goals was to continue increasing my protein consumption to >90 grams per day.  Last year, I found that focusing on protein intake made my meals infinitely more satisfying, so I vowed to keep it up and take it to the next level.  Plus, there's the added benefits of consuming protein post-workout to help repair and build your muscles.  Because I've also been focusing on strength training and conditioning, protein has become that much more important.  I've been amping up my protein in the form of nutritious, real foods: wild fish, high-quality meat, and nature's perfect gift--eggs.

Many people use protein powders to bulk up meals or shakes after exercise.  I have never been one of them.  First, there was the period of time I wasn't really eating meat, so integrating whey or casein just didn't appeal.  This year, whey wasn't so scary anymore, but I simply wasn't in the habit and didn't really know why or where to start.

When Designer Whey sent over some of their products to sample, I figured it was as good a time as any to give whey a try!

Designer Whey creates protein products for fitness-minded consumers.  They aim for superior taste and quality in their convenient products, which are all made to suit an active lifestyle.  

Why use whey?  Their website lists the benefits, most notably and well-known being that it's a complete protein that is quickly absorbed by the body.  This quick absorption is what maximizes post-workout recovery, which is why it's a popular post-gym supplement.  It also boasts a "perfect amino acid profile for muscle building," is absorbed into the bloodstream faster than other proteins, and "works as an antioxidant to boost your body's immune system." 

So that's whey, but what's Designer Whey all about?  Read on to find out...

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Wash Your Makeup Brushes

(For my male audience, I apologize. This one's for the ladies!) 

This is a dare that, for too long, I avoided, denied its importance, neglected.  But finally, about a year ago, I came around and gave in and decided it was time to start cleaning my makeup brushes.

This is SO necessary!  It's really disgusting to think about how much old makeup is dried up in there.  Being lazy, I'd sooner have bought a new brush than deal with washing my own.  However, after some research and experimentation, I learned that it's really not that hard at all, just one of those inconveniences that seems like a bigger deal than it is.

The internet is a wonderful resource for "How To" anything.  Finding sites and videos was incredibly easy.  With so many options to choose from, I browsed a bit before choosing to follow this one, which shows several techniques:

But there are tons more, so you  can search for one that appeals to you!

I still remember after that first cleaning, seeing the color stream off my brushes.  That was enough convincing that I need to do this regularly.  And, once I did it, it was so simple to do it again, and again.  Clean brushes, clean skin!

So how to do it?  Start with water and a basic soap.  Don't use that scented, creamy stuff; those contain some really unnatural ingredients that can irritate your skin.  I also use olive oil.  The video above uses lots of materials, but after the first two times, I found that soap and oil were enough to do the job well.

Simplest way:
1. Rinse your brush and rub the bristles gently on basic bar soap.  Don't get soap into the metal part.
2. Rinse well--remove all soap!
3. Lay it on a towel to dry!

Another option (this is what I found worked best):
1. Wet a clean sponge or paper towel and put a drop of soap or detergent on it.
2. Rub the brush into the sponge and work the soap to a lather.
3. Rinse well.
4. Lay flat on towel to dry.

The video above shows how to use a bit of olive oil to remove really badly stuck-on product.  I thought that was a neat trick.  Dare you to try it!  More info can be found here.

Most experts recommend that you wash brushes at least once per month.  Others even suggest as often as weekly.  Either way, this is hardly difficult, because it doesn't take very long at all, depending on how many brushes you use regularly.  For me, it takes about 10 minutes to do the washing for the seven brushes photographed above, and then just the time for them to dry--give them a few hours to dry thoroughly.  But I hardly ever need to wash that many, usually just the two that I use on a regular basis.  It takes no time at all.

Dare you to wash your dirty makeup brushes!  Another habit to establish!  Put it on your calendar!  Remind yourself to wash those brushes, so that old, dried up makeup doesn't keep irritating your skin. When you see the runoff into the sink, you'll know how important this little chore is.

So: How often do you wash your makeup brushes? Any methods you've found work particularly well?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Live With Fire!

So... Reebok sent me their smokin' hot new running sneakers.

Introducing: DMX Sky

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  Need I even write a review?

Alright, alright.  Runners and trainers alike know not to judge a shoe by its... cover.  I've tried pretty shoes before (even pretty Reebok ones) that simply didn't work for my feet.  Good looks aren't enough; you've got to test it out!  Take it out of the box, stop drooling, and lace up.


After testing in my home, on the road, and at the gym, I can confirm that these shoes are as awesome as they look. I'm picky about fitness shoes, and have learned that the right shoe makes all the difference to your workout and comfort.  You need a shoe that is designed not only for the task in which you will use it (running? jumping? spinning? sprinting? pivoting? squating? dancing?), but also for your foot.  I don't know how Reebok did it, but in the last two weeks, I've found that the DMX Sky was designed for a) all of the above, and b) MY foot.

Aside from the awesome color pattern, the most notable thing about these sneakers are the sole, or rather, the air channel technology on bottom:

Did that make sense? Clearly you just need to try them for yourself to understand how you fly in these babies.

Let's get  the official word from Reebok:
Take your fitness to new heights with the DMX Sky running shoe. Our DMXSky outsole technology channels air where you need it most for excellent underfoot cushioning, while the thing midfoot caging offers lightweight support. 

We're talking tons of cushion support, but without a heavy sole weighing you down; you still feel light as air!  I immediately understood the "Sky" part of the name; I felt inches taller, and when I began to run, I felt like I was flying.

Yes, flying.  Up in the air, bouncing along on the balls that comprise the unique outsole technology.  These cleat-like soles serve not only to make you leap up in the air as you run, but also effectively grip the road.  Even on a day the ground was wet, I never felt like I was slipping at all.  Great traction!

The other thing that really set these shoes apart from my other sneakers, for walking, running, and even fitness moves like lunges, is the way they move with your foot.  Other sneakers have bottoms, plain and simple.  The beaded sole and air channels make the shoe bend and curve with your foot. As my heal strikes the ground first, the shoe seems to bend and touch the ground along with the way it would if I were running barefoot.  There is no pointed heel of the shoe that gets in the way as you strike the ground, because it's rounded, just like your actual heel!  So it rounds onto the ground in a way that feels so natural.

I'll let this guy explain the technology:

It bends and curves and moves on the ground just like the rounded edges of your foot would, so whether you're walking as you run errands, going for a pleasant jog on a sunny day, pounding the pavement training for your next race, or even doing some body weight training at the gym, the DMXSky technology makes this shoe incredibly comfortable and natural feeling, even though it looks like something out of the future!

This winter, I have not been running much at all.  I've been busy, stressed, cold, and focusing on strength training more than running.  However, now that these bad boys sit by my door, I want nothing more than to slip them on and head outside.

These shoes make me want to run.

Full disclaimer: Reebok sent me these bad boys for review purposes, but the opinions expressed above are all my own. I love these shoes. Love them!  Honestly. I've been showing them off to everyone who comes over, and have been running outside just so the world can see my snazzy new kicks.

With my DMX Sky sneakers, I want to run, my feet feel good while I run, and I fly!

Interested in getting yourself a pair? They come in all sorts of colors (though I'm partial to purple and teal kicks):

Go check em out! They come in men's, and women's, and colors to suit any style. What are you waiting for? Click here! Seriously, I'm obsessed. In love. Converted. Ready to convert you, too.

Dare you to live with fire!

Have you tried these hot new shoes?  What are YOUR favorite running shoes?  What features help your feet through long runs?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Seek Out Knowledge: Nutrition Workshop

In the journey to become your best self, you've got to actively seek out information that will help you make better choices.  This weekend, I had such an opportunity, and took it.

And that means another event recap...

Balanced Bites Nutrition Workshop

Appropriately coinciding with my one-year paleoversary, I traveled this weekend to Washington D.C. to learn even more about the science behind and practical implementation of a paleo lifestyle.  At Crossfit Metro Center,  the Balanced Bites Nutrition Workshop would be presented for the last audience for a while.  I'm so fortunate to have taken part!

The Balanced Bites Workshop is led by Diane Sanfilippo (of BalancedBites.comand Liz Wolfe (of, two very smart and funny women whose podcast has made my commutes far more enjoyable and educational. 

The workshop was basically an all-inclusive schooling on what different foods--and the nutrients and micronutrients that come with them--do in and to our bodies, and how we can make better choices for optimal health.  We'd learn about grains, cholesterol, fats, blood sugar regulation, stress management, the importance of sleep, and what super-food supplements can help us reach our goals. 

When I first walked in and recognized Liz standing before me, tall and just as stunning as her photos, I shyly said "Hi," obviously knowing who she was but not expecting her to know me.  To my delight, she responded, "Hey... I've tweeted with you..."  Yes!  Yes you have.  Awesome.  We've bonded over moleskine journals and coconut oil.  I've been reading more and more by Liz, who not only is a knowledgeable Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (also working toward her Master's in Public Health), but is also a fantastic resource for and walking example of natural beauty and skincare.  Thanks to her advice on the podcast, I've already begun making several changes to my personal care routine, and have many more to come!  (When she complimented my bus-riding, couch-sleeping hair--swoon!--and asked if I was doing no-poo, I responded that's on my list for summer when I can just hide during the transition phase.  One step at a time!)

So, in I went to find a seat in the already packed room.  As I settled in, the first thing I noticed was the audience, a mix of young and old, male and female (with more of the latter), and all genuinely interested in talking about health.  Although the earlier workshop audiences were more new to the paleo lifestyle, recent audiences--including this one--were largely paleo savvy already, and most had already begun or were already on their journey to health.  The conversation in the crowd included words like "almond butter," "CrossFit," "triglycerides," and "naturopath."  Topics covered health, fitness, disease, and personal experiences of discovering and transitioning to paleo.  These are my people!

And then it began.  After introductions to Diane and Liz, themselves, we started with the history of the human diet, how it changed, and how it has been negatively influenced by the government, drug companies, and media.  "There are no definitive answers," Diane explained.  What once was accepted as truth has repeatedly been overturned.  We looked at advertisements in which doctors endorse Camel cigarettes and babies drink 7-Up.  We learned the twisted history of the invention of margarine and the disgusting factory processes that create canola oil.  We were shown videos and studies that support a more traditional diet, which has kept isolated populations extremely healthy, even in the absence of modern medical and dental care. 

Diane taking a question from the audience

Then we moved into the processes that occur within our bodies.  Inflammation, blood sugar management, chronic disease, and leaky gut.  We talked about the powerful impact of stress and hormones on our systems, and what types of lifestyle adjustments are necessary to support our health goals.  "Stress is interconnected to EVERYTHING." So calm down, take time for yourself, get adequate, high-quality sleep, and relax.

We took a few breaks throughout the day, during which we got up to stretch our legs, chat with the presenters, and check out the "Party Table."  Several samples were kindly available to us.  We each got a sample of Real Salt and Justin's Almond Butter.  Looking forward to trying these out!

Stacy of Paleo Parents and the Cave Husband distributing samples and selling books

There were also samples of Paleo Kits available for sale/donation.  Steve's Original produces these snack and meal kits to raise money for Steve's Club.  Liz has written about them and talked about them, and seeing her describe the program and share a video, it was clear how strongly connected she is to the children and believes in the power of the program.

It was a long (but worthwhile!) day, so naturally we needed some fuel throughout the morning presentations.  Some guests dug right into the samples as a snack, nibbling on a Paleo Krunch bar or lapping up their almond butter.  Several people also brought their own snacks.  After all, we're mostly accustomed to doing this already.  It was interesting how different the snacks were from what you typically see out and about. Instead of chips, muffins, or M&Ms, workshop attendees reached into their bags for real food.  I brought an apple.  A woman two seats down noshed on pistachios.  And I swear I saw a woman eating diced steak from a tupperwear.  Welcome to Paleoworld.

Speaking of Paleoworld, we also had Primal Palate in attendance for a short time, signing copies of their cookbook, Make It Paleo (remember how you salivated over my review photos?)

PlusStacy Toth of Paleo Parents lives in the area, so she spent the day at the workshop, also selling and signing books on the break.  I listen to her Paleo View Podcast regularly, so it was very cool to meet the friendly woman behind the voice.

What a Paleo Picture! 
Two top paleo bloggers, Paleo Kits, Kombucha, Practical Paleo, and Eat Like a Dinosaur!

Plus, Stacy brought along her and her husband's book, Eat Like a Dinosaur.  It's packed with fun-for-kids meals--a great family recipe book!  However, flipping through it, I and several other non-children in attendance became smitten with the recipes and photos.  ...So I got one for myself!  I want to eat like a dinosaur, too!

And eat like dinosaurs, we did.  Lunch was provided by a local (DC) meal delivery service: Power Supply: Fuel for a Powerful Life.  Diane and Power Supply were super accommodating with various dietary restrictions.  Would you expect any less from health professionals?

Lunch provided by Power Supply, a DC-local prepared meal provider.

The chicken salad was delicious!  I don't usually like chicken salads, but this one was good, with sweet mix-ins.  The dressing was good, as well, and there was actually another dressing company offering samples.  Tessemae's brought some delicious dressings. Seriously. I'm about to hunt those down in my local Whole Foods.


I really liked the Southwest Ranch dressing, and especially Matty's BBQ Sauce.  I don't think I've ever even bought a BBQ sauce for myself before, but this is now on my list.  It was goo-oo-ood!

After lunch, it was time to digest, and to learn about digestion!

Gut and digestion troubles are often the source of other seemingly unrelated problems in the body, brain, and skin, so it's important to ensure that everything is functioning as it should!

Then we moved into different myths and truths about different foods, and how we can make better decisions about what we put into our body.  Knowing what a food does--down to the molecule--empowers you to choose better.

We learned about fat and cholesterol, and debunked the ubiquitous myth that both are evil.  In fact, this Time Magazine cover, coincidentally from the year 1984, was given as the starting point for all the libel about cholesterol that would follow for the next 20 years.

Time Magazine

As the slide was shown, an attendee near me laughed, "Looks like breakfast!"  And it's true; this is the foundation a typical paleo breakfast: high-quality animal protein.

That was one major message from the day: If you can get it from a plant or an animal, choose animal.  The animals eat the plants, and we eat the animals.  They have the stomachs to digest the insoluble fiber, and we don't.  If we don't eat animal protein, we're missing out on so many essential nutrients, which is one reason I opted to start eating meat--even red meat--again.  We learned not to fear cholesterol or saturated fats, because the studies linking them to cancer and heart disease included trans fats and were scandalously manipulated in other ways, like THIS:

With videos like this, visual aids, and even legos, Liz & Diane painted a comprehensive picture of how the foods that are touted by the USDA, the Big Food industry, and popular media as healthy, are actually detrimental to our health, and by relying on smarter science regarding fats, proteins, carbohydrates, and all the micronutrients that support their use in our bodies, we can make better choices for ourselves. 

Diane and Liz explained the complex science in relatable terms, so layfolk like myself could understand how food works in the body, where things can go wrong, and what we can do to keep things running smoothly.  A lot of the information can be found in Practical Paleo or on the Balanced Bites website, but there was also much that I felt was somewhat new, or that it was explained in a way that I could truly understand.  Merely reading something is so different from having someone explain it to you, with visuals, and where you can even ask questions.

I, personally, internalize what I learn by writing, so I took extensive notes...

"Could I BE taking any more notes?"

I'm pumped to sift through these notes and compare them to the helpful charts, tables, and diagrams in the book.  Learn, learn, learn!  Understanding drives doing.  And, as Diane pointed out, regarding paleo nutrition: "It only works if you do it.

A Balanced Bites sandwich lettuce wrap. My life is complete! (Again.)

NOTE: As they also pointed out, you can't make someone ELSE change.  You can only make better choices for yourself.  My goal in this post is not to convince you to "Go paleo," but rather to question conventional wisdom and seek out scientific support for your lifestyle and nutritional choices.  

As the workshop came to an end, I was sad it was over but excited to have learned so much.  One thing that I took away was to take my paleo beyond just what not to eat, but also what to eat.  I already got started on my sauerkraut and fermented cod liver oil, and have re-integrated meat into my diet after two years of pescetarianism, but now I'll continue actively seeking micronutrient-rich foods to include in my diet.

At last, the long bus ride home... I took the time to reflect on what I'd learned and how I can make more positive changes, particularly in the lifestyle area (sleep, stress, and skincare).  It was also suppertime, and I was getting hungry again.  I picked up some hard-boiled eggs, but that wouldn't be enough.  Good thing Stacey helped me out with an extra Paleo Krunch!  It was my first time sampling these bad boys, and let me tell you: they're good. 

Seriously, when I took my first bite, I almost stopped chewing and checked the package. This tasted like a legitimate, sweet, full-grain granola bar.  It wasn't the dense, moist fruit-and-nut bars I'd accustomed myself to.  This was the real deal.

It ended up being a little crumbly, but overall a GREAT travel snack to keep on hand.  I've got another one I bought to try, so we'll see if that one's more cohesive.  Either way, it's very tasty, and I'm definitely going to order myself a few more. Dare you to check them out, too, and support Steve's Club!

It was a long trip, but definitely worth it! I learned a ton, and you can too!  For more information, I dare you to check out and  You can also get your own copy of Diane Sanfilippo's Practical Paleo and Liz Wolfe's Skintervention Guide.  They've also both got new books coming out this spring and next fall, so look out for their faces in your local bookstore!

Dare you to keep an eye out for health and wellness workshops in your area!  You never know what you'll find, what you'll learn, and how it can change your life.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Reflect and adjust: Lessons on my Paleoversary

Last week marked one year since I first began eating according to a paleo template.  One wonderful year of paleo-esque eating.  Happy Paleoversary, me!

What have I learned in my (more-or-less/progressively improving) "paleo" year?  1. It works.  2. It's about consistency. 3. It's about you.  Let's look back...

It all began with an innocent week without wheat, and the positive results were so immediate and astonishing, that I dove head-first into a 30-day paleo challenge.  I enjoyed feeling like my body was functioning as it should--better than I knew it could--and it was still new, so I kept it up for the next few months, with a few non-paleo treats on rare occasions.  Then I became a bit lax, a bit lazy, a bit "why can't I have that," although I never reverted back to the Standard American Diet. Grains are no longer something I eat daily or even miss.  I've remained mostly gluten-free and paleo; nowadays, I'm pretty consistent, but do still enjoy a sweet treat now and again.  No matter what is on my plate, the end result after a year is that I have become VERY aware of how certain foods affect me.

The fluctuation in my adherence to the dietary template has made me very self-aware.  When I get a dull but persistent headache, I probably had a TON of nuts the day before. When my hand eczema flares up, it's typically because I just ate wheat.  Rice, while sometimes harmless, tends to give me stomach cramps. Too much sugar--whether in a chocolate or in dried fruit--makes my head feel foggy. 

That is my big take-away: The one lesson I've learned the most over this past year that I'd like to impart on you: food affects everything.  The food you eat--that you put into your body--will impact not only your weight, but also your skin, your mental clarity, your stomach comfort and bloating, your energy and fatigue, your sleep, your headaches, your health and immunity, chronic diseases... really it just goes on and on. 

Take NOTHING for granted. You are not necessarily doomed to whatever condition it is that you believe or your doctor has diagnosed you to have.  Food has an influence.  Food can help or hurt.  Food matters. Choose wisely.

What are you putting into your body?  Whatever it is that you choose to eat, I dare you to take notice of how you feel over the following hour, day, or week.  If you frequently experience an unpleasant bodily phenomenon (headaches, gas, joint or muscle pain), start a food journal and see if you can link it to a certain food.  If you've got a chronic disease--big or small--ask your doctor and do some research about dietary changes that have resulted in success stories. Overall, acknowledge the importance of food. 

To quickly squash a few misconceptions: 
  • "Paleo" is simply a commonly used name to describe it; it is not a "fad diet" that you pay for and get a calorie limit and simple, non-adjustable food lists.  Sure, there are foods that the paleo, primal, ancestral, evolutionary... template avoids, but those foods are not even regarded as foods.  This approach simply looks at food, as given by nature, and lets you eat whatever and however much of it makes you feel good.  It's not a prescribed diet, and not everyone who "eats paleo" eats the same things in the same way.  It is not meant to be a 30-day fix, after which you can go back to your old ways; it is meant to be a way of life for long-term health.
  • Just that--it's about health!  If you're very unhealthy and need to lose weight, you likely will on a paleo diet, but weight loss is not the focus.  It's health.  With health, comes a healthy weight, but overall the focus is on general well-being.
  • Further, a lot of "experts" criticize it for removing an entire "food group."  Who decided that grains were a food group?  A government agency that was not made up of nutritionists?  The government recommendation to eat grains comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture--not "of Health"--and has long been criticized by doctors.  Humans survived as a species without grains for thousands of of years!  Removing grains from the diet does not deplete us of any essential vitamins and minerals, and does not leave our bodies starving for more. Genetically modified wheats and sugars, on the other hand... 
  • As mentioned above, it's personal.  Each individual's "paleo" experience may be different, depending on your goals and your body.  As Diane Sanfilippo in Practical Paleo outlines, different goals (athletic performance, fat loss, autoimmune condition relief) require different templates.  Robb Wolf always advocates the "n=1=YOU" principle, where you conduct dietary experiments in which YOU are the subject. What works for you, works for you! Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint 90-Day Journal is designed to help you learn what helps you thrive.  Paleo/Primal is all about you
  • It's not meant to be cute. It's not a "Caveman Diet" that's designed for the sole purpose of eating and acting like our ancestors.  Sure, it works to do so, because they obviously lived well enough to reproduce generation after generation, until this day.  It's only recently that we began creating and consuming franken-foods to derail our health efforts.  However, a primal eating plan isn't based only on the fun idea of copying cavemen.  It is biologically-based.  Seriously.  Listen to Robb Wolf speak and you'll get it (probably because you won't).  This is SCIENCE, not a fun fad. 

Pardon my rant.  For more information, check out my Paleo Tab above.  It's got plenty of resources, and I'm planning to add more, as I'm constantly reading, learning, listening, and experimenting. 

Recently, I've been adhering pretty well to my health goals.  I now know what works for me and what makes me feel lousy.  It's all about knowing the potential consequences and making informed decisions.  Over the course of the year, I've also gained interest in the ancestral approach to lifestyle, beyond just food. There's the timing of eating, the quality and quantity of sleep, the functional fitness training, the quality of toiletries and beauty products, spending time in nature, relieving stress, ... and more!  

And yes, those dares are coming... :)

Are there any foods you KNOW you have a negative reaction to?  
Do you feel noticeably better when including or avoiding certain items?  Has a particular dietary discovery changed your life? Share below, or dare you to experiment and find out!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Write Three Good Things

This dare is just as the title suggests: I dare you to write down three good things in your life, every day.

The end!

Just kidding, I'll explain:

When I studied positive psychology (the scientific study of happiness) in college, many lessons stuck with me.  For example, money increases happiness only up until a certain threshold, at which point basic needs are satisfied.  Having children decreases momentary happiness, but dramatically improves long-term life satisfaction.  A lengthy commute significantly diminishes happiness--far more than people may predict.  ... SO many interested findings!

Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, tested various interventions to measure effects on human happiness.  One of the simplest was called Three Good Things in Life: "Participants were asked to write down three things that went well each day and their causes every night for one week. In addition they were asked to provide a causal explanation for each good thing" (Seligman, Steen, & Peterson, 2005, p.8).  They found that completion of this daily exercise "increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms."  The positive effects--feeling happier and less depressed--were immediate and long-lasting.

In this video, Dr. Seligman, himself, explains the process and why it works:

It's not unlike a gratitude list, but with a slightly different twist.  Seligman notes that it's important to not only identify the "good thing" that happened, but also the cause.  Why did this happen?  Or why is this a good thing?
  • If you received praise for something at work or school, is it because you did a good job? Because you put in a lot of time and effort on your project? 
  • If you set a new personal record for your 5k run, was it your lucky day, or did your training pay off? 
  • If your jeans feel loose, is it because they stretched out, or because you've been choosing to eat high quality foods?
  • If you had a nice time catching up with a relative, maybe that's because you took time out of your busy day to invest in your personal relationships.  
  • Maybe a friend did you a favor because you've done so many for them in the past.
  • Maybe you had a fun afternoon with friends, is it because you were brave enough to suggest an unconventional activity? 
  • Maybe you had a really good nap, or a particularly good meal, or an awesome workout.  Maybe you can simply be grateful for the things and people you have in life.  Anything that is GOOD to YOU!

You get the idea. Don't just say what happened, but also why. Give yourself some credit!

How should you start?
  1. Choose your medium for journaling.  Pick up a basic lined journal to keep on your nightstand, start a new Google Doc, or use a website designed for daily journaling.
  2. Simply begin!  At night before bed, reflect on your day.  Identify three good things--anything that made you feel happy, grateful, proud, or warm and fuzzy inside--that happened over the course of the day. The "things" can be big or small; it's up to you!  
  3. Consider why it happened.  Even if you don't have an answer right away, try to figure out why you enjoyed that blessing on this day.  This was tricky for me to get used to at first, but do your best and you'll get better at this part.  Again, don't be afraid to give yourself credit!  Or, sometimes you might simply think that someone up there is smiling down on you.  Whatever it is, think about and write down why the good thing happened.
  4. Do it again the following night! Keep it up. The trick is doing this on a regular basis.  Make it habit. This is why putting a journal beside your bed is a good idea, or even keeping a document open in your phone for regular editing.
  5. Look back on past entries.  Over time, you'll get to look back and recall "good things"--both big and small--that made you happy and can now, once again, bring a smile to your face, a week, month, or year later!

After learning about this in my psychology courses, I began doing this myself. I started an online document and added to it daily.  The time of day has changed.  For a long time, I wrote in it at night, but this year, I began writing my "Three Good Things" in the morning, when I had time. I found that it was a nice way to start my day, too--looking back on good things from yesterday and putting me in a good mood for another good day.

I had a good streak of doing this daily, and have since taken a break to work on something else--a thoughtful birthday gift from a friend (thanks, Becky!) who knows how much I loved The Happiness Project (a book you should all read ASAP!):

The Happiness Project: One-Sentence Journal

But either way, I'm noting good things from the day, and that's what matters!

Bonus: Other positive intervention exercises tested in Seligman's study included...
  • Gratitude visit: Write and deliver a letter of gratitude, in person, to someone who has been especially kind to you but has not been properly thanked.
  • Identify and Use signature strengths: Go to to learn about signature strengths.
  • You are your best: Write about a time when you were at your best and then reflect on personal strengths displayed in the story. (This only had immediate effects, not as long-lasting as the other interventions.) 

But no need to be overwhelmed!
Start with Three Good Things and see how you like it!

Are you ready to get started?  Dare you to write down Three Good Things every day! 

What good things happened to you TODAY and why??