This week I've needed some serious self care...
Being 36 weeks pregnant I'm finding that nights have gotten a bit rough- I have terrible restless legs in spite of extra magnesium, potty breaks are frequent, and no sleeping position is comfortable. I've tried it all, the wedge pillow, sleeping in a recliner, pillow between the legs, all to no avail. Most nights I toss and turn almost the entire night, and I'm starting to think that I'll sleep better WITH a newborn than I currently do.
The only thing that feels comfortable on my legs, hips and pelvis is being upright, so often I'm inclined to just get up out of bed and move around in spite of being sleepy. I walk, stretch and do yoga, but this week called for calling in some extra measures.
I've taken warm baths with essential oils. If you're looking for an excellent and effective quick way to unwind at home on any given weeknight, this is the one! I frequently use a few drops of lavender, which is proven to be both safe and relaxing during pregnancy (here's a list of other pregnancy safe oils for my prenatal friends). Find yourself a favorite relaxing playlist (here's one of my favorites), use some candles, pour yourself some warm tea, a glass o f wine, or other favorite beverage, grab a book, get your comfiest pajamas ready, and make sure you'll have no interruptions. Even a half hour calming soak goes a long way to helping the body feel relaxed and help reduce stress.
I've made a new face mask! This one was super easy, and makes a great deep pore treatment for those relaxing baths. Use 1 Tbsp. bentonite clay and one emptied capsule (apx. 1/8 tsp) activated charcoal mixed with two drops tea tree oil, and few drops of sweet almond, rosehip or extra virgin olive oil. Add a tiny bit of water at a time and mix until it's a spreadable paste consistency. Spread on your face while you're soaking in the bath, and the warmth will help soak into the pores and give them a deep clean. Rinse well after dried, you might need a clean washcloth to help, the charcoal sometimes requires a little extra help. Follow with your favorite moisturizer.
For nights when my brain won't shut off and I struggle to get or stay asleep, I've gotten REALLY into Yoga Nidra. If you've never heard of Yoga Nidra, this is a more meditative practice and does not include asana (physical practice), so basically it's a guided relaxation meditation. I found Sarovara Yoga on YouTube and find her nidras super relaxing, and I often use headphones (and a satin sleep mask) to listen at night before bed, or in those early morning hours when I struggle to get back to sleep. She has an extensive playlist of nidras ranging from 10 minutes to 3 hours, I highly recommend giving a listen.
Remember, when you find yourself tired or stressed and in need of comfort, sometimes little things to help you feel well can really go a long way. Taking care of yourself isn't selfish, it's important, and even when time get limited and the stresses pile up you can still find small ways to rest and reset. Much the same as with fitness, I have found that when I'm less able to commit longer single sessions to myself, whether for workouts or self-care activities, doing small things do have cumulative benefits. Take 10-15 minutes here and there several times a day and it adds up- spending an hour on yourself is still an hour, even if it's broken into smaller sessions.
An introduction to my self-care evolution before our first self-care Saturday recipe...
Once upon a time and earlier in my adult life I lived a life different than I do now. Self-care was not part of my routine and was perceived as selfish. I was living an existence that revolved around the trophy created by stress and burnout, rooted in never ending self-sacrifice. Over time I learned that this is not uncommon, and worse, that people sought out others that did the same. Instead of encouraging one another to prioritize health and wellness, all I found was the "wine culture" of indulgence and humor about premature aging, making people fell less alone in their struggles. Camaraderie is a pretty powerful and comforting thing, and it seemed as though people lived in novelty instead of mindfulness.
By serendipity I found some things that made me feel a little rejuvenated, finding ways to sneak them into my busy routine. Instead of dwelling on the guilt over the time spent on myself, I found myself feeling more present in other endeavors. This feeling grew and inspired me to become the best version of myself that I could be, not just because I deserved it, but because the people around me deserved it, too.
One of my favorite college professors wrote about the Leadership Imperative of Self-Care, motivating people in leadership positions to look beyond self care myths for both personal and career success. It still resonates with me how she was able to professionally articulate a growing sentiment I was witnessing in my personal life, and as my journey continued and I evolved into an advocate for health and wellness I continued to default to the importance of prioritizing your individual well-being.
I still do. It's good for me, and for all of my relationships, personal and professional. As a parent I believe that self-care practice is essential; beyond giving everyone the best version of yourself, you are leading by example and showing them that everyone is worthy of time, and that everyone has hobbies and interests equally as important as their own. Beyond that, I don't believe that anything good comes from teaching a child that the world revolves entirely around them, rather, they learn patience and self-sufficiency. Self-care looks different to everyone and should be something that is helpful and beneficial, making you feel a sense of reset. Self-care should improve your health and while a glass of wine and a warm bath, or an occasional indulgence in a special treat sound nice, be cautious that you don't use the term "self-care" as a broad sweeping way to feel less guilty about bad habits, which should be practiced in moderation...meaning eat the piece of cake or drink the glass of wine, not the whole cake and guzzle the bottle. Self-care can sometimes be a balancing act of habits and indulgences.
For me, I find my self-care in being outdoors in general, most especially trail running and hiking. I love yoga, and I also really enjoy at home spa and beauty treatments. I like to find and try different skin care companies and products, especially natural ones, and create concoctions and mixtures with other natural products to make homemade masks, scrubs and creams. The outdoor enthusiast in me also likes to forage for wild plants I can use in these creations, and have used plants like dandelion to make body salves that help fight inflammation. Much the same as with nutrition and what it does to the inside of our body, plants and other foods can do really neat things to the skin as well.
That said, I found a recipe for a pumpkin facial that I tweaked with slightly different products that I prefer, and it's been a keeper. I've seen pumpkin enzyme products and have read about their benefits, and I've even seen a pumpkin facial offered at a local day spa, so my curiosity was piqued. What I learned is that pumpkin has natural enzymes that help to gently exfoliate the skin, Vitamins A, C and E which fight signs of aging like fine lines and sun damage, and zinc and potassium which fight redness. With the addition of plain yogurt you get more exfoliating power from the naturally occurring lactic acid, a common and sought after Alpha Hydroxy Acid in skin care products, which has a wide range of benefits such as acne fighting, anti-aging, and collagen building properties. Honey has natural anti-bacterial properties, and sweet almond oil is a powerful little addition that replenishes moisture without clogging pores, contains anti-aging Vitamin A, and contains antioxidants which help reduce photo-aging while retaining moisture on the skin. This mask creates an instant glow and leaves your face feeling smooth and supple.
Anti-Aging Pumpkin Mask
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 Tablespoon Honey (I use local raw honey)
1 Tablespoon Sweet Almond Oil
Mix all ingredients until combined. Keep mask on for about 10 minutes then wash off with warm washcloth. Follow with favorite moisturizing serum and moisturizer (I use The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid + B5).
This week’s blog post focuses on ingredient substitution. You do not have to give up a healthy lifestyle to enjoy your favorite delicious foods! By substituting certain foods where possible, you can better incorporate more nutrients in your diet, reduce calories, reduce “bad” fats and excess sodium, and leave a little less guilt for indulging on occasion.
We are big fans of black bean burgers, which surprisingly became a preference over regular beef burgers after playing around with substitutions. There are a few store-bought brands available that are easy to keep in the freezer, but the taste doesn’t compare to homemade.
Additionally, while I have no personal need to avoid gluten, I like to play around with substitutes that might offer similar benefits. Almond flour contains vitamin E, monounsaturated fats that can help lower bad cholesterol, and both fewer calories and more soluble fiber than traditional wheat flour ounce for ounce.
Having worked in the past in various roles as an advocate for independent seniors and those living with disabilities, I began playing around with healthy cooking ideas that worked for people living alone, or with a limited kitchen, which led me to mug meals. This was the foundation for “mug bread” experiments. There are a lot of benefits to mug meals in general, which is for another post, but regarding a healthy bread substitute, the most obvious benefit is the cost; gluten free breads tend to be expensive and unless you’re a regular GF bread or bread alternative consumer, you could end up with food waste, which means wasted money. And you never go wrong controlling the quality of your own ingredients!
Almond flour mug bread
1/4 almond flour
1 Tbsp oil or butter (I used avocado oil in my dairy free version, but grass-fed butter in the picture)
1/2 tsp baking powder
Dash or two of salt
Microwave in Pyrex bowl or mug for 90 seconds. Toast after cooking if you like a little crunch.
I've subbed regular flour and it also worked well. I have not tried any vegan egg replacers yet though, so if anyone tries it, keep me posted.
Black Bean Burgers
1 can low sodium black beans, mashed well
¼ cup minced onion
1 clove minced garlic
1 egg (or 1/4 cup veganaise if you want a vegan)
1/2 cup bread crumbs or ground oats (for gluten free)
Season with whatever you like, I like cumin, chili powder, salt, and Penzy's 'Arizona dreaming' blend.
Mix well and form into patties. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to set. Pan fry, grill, or broil.
Serve with your favorite toppings.
There are several known benefits of diet and exercise, body composition and weight management being the most obvious. Not without merit, it is a great feeling to look good in your favorite pair of jeans, and it brings with it the amazing feeling of increased confidence. A lot of fitness-goers also realize that their efforts go beyond skin deep, benefiting the heart, blood vessels and organs, but often neglected in both the recognition and practice is how exercise affects our stress levels, and more importantly, how stress then affects our physical wellbeing.
Stress is a uniquely personal experience, and how someone responds to stress varies. Stress is defined as something that stimulates the body’s homeostasis, or the body’s baseline equilibrium, and what can trigger a response for one person may not necessarily cause stress in another. We all experience brief natural stressors such as nervousness over an interview or test, all of which are unlikely to cause any lasting effect or physiological change, but chronic stressors and major life events, even positive events such as having a baby, can cause a reaction in the physical body. When stimulus is received from stressors the body finds a way to respond to the challenge; this is where the physical body changes, the signs often ignored until they cause more severe and unavoidable problems.
When something stimulates a stress response, the hypothalamus in the brain receives a signal and begins to respond. The hypothalamus communicates with the body via the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Think about the word “auto”; this is where the body processes that happen without thought take place, like your heart beating, metabolism and breathing. The nervous system triggers the “fight or flight response”. This is a normal and healthy part of the human stress response, but since the nervous system is continuously triggered, the “rest and digest” response from the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is told to take a break, so the body doesn’t go into homeostasis…aka back to normal. While these things are happening, the body goes through physical changes that cannot be seen. The blood vessels both dilate and constrict in different places, deeming some functions more important that others. Hormones like cortisol, commonly known as “the stress hormone”, and neurotransmitters like epinephrine, which regulate things like circadian rhythm and glucose function are released. Again, these functions are normal and useful when deployed for a self-limiting stressor, but will produce lasting changes within the body when the stress goes beyond the limited experience.
In the shorter term, chronic stress can lead to:
Chronic elevated stress will lead to increased blood pressure, heart palpitations, and chest pains from the changes in blood flow and volume.
In addition to hypertension, respiratory conditions such as asthma can be triggered.
Muscle tension from constriction can lead to injury and imbalances.
Blood glucose stays elevated due to lack of regulation of insulin.
Digestive issues occur, such as heartburn, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea occur as the body reduces function in non-essential areas.
Reduced circulation in the extremities, causing tingling and cool/clammy skin.
Breakouts occur due to increase in oil production in the face, triggered by the increase in hormones.
Dry mouth and throat due to reduced salivary secretions.
Weight gain occurs when cortisol triggers an increase in appetite.
An increase in headaches from chronic muscle tension.
Long term stress exposure could lead to very serious health consequences and risk of premature mortality.
Long term reduction of serotonin (the happy neurotransmitter) can lead to altered emotions and mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Chronic increased cortisol can suppress reproductive function in both males and females, leading to infertility, as well as painful or irregular menstrual function in women.
Elevated cortisol levels inhibit bone remodeling and decrease bone mineral density, leading to an increased risk of osteopenia, osteoporosis, and fractures.
Type two diabetes can develop or become worse due to the body’s altered insulin function.
An increase in cytokines, which cause inflammation throughout the body. Chronic inflammation is a known risk factor for many diseases, such as cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases.
Irritable bowel syndrome can develop from the altered gut microbiome from chronic exposure to cortisol.
A chronic increase in cortisol can damage the hippocampus, or the memory center in the brain. This leads to impaired concentration and memory function and increases the risk of memory orders such as dementia later in life.
An increased risk for heart attack and stroke from the damage in the lining of the blood vessels.
Inflammation leads to chronic pain, and an increase in severity of existing joint pain from conditions like arthritis.
If you find yourself minimizing stress as a physical condition and skipping stress reducing health habits like exercise, please be aware that the physical repercussions go far below the skin and are changing you from the inside out. Remember that not all changes have to be big, and the cumulative effects of small benefits can improve your overall quality of life. If stress is something that affects your life make your health and well-being a priority, even if you can’t see the damage on a daily basis.
I love hot chocolate at Christmas time, but I can't bring myself to use junky powdered mixes and syrups that are loaded with high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, and nasty preservatives.
The word "ferment" can sound a little yucky, but fermentation is an ancient form of food preservation using beneficial bacteria. Did you know that not all bacteria is bad? Some bacteria strains are so helpful that they're responsible for things like reduced body inflammation, reduced risk for degenerative and auto-immune disease, and even an improved mood! More nerdy info here if you'd like:
While we're familiar with common fermented like wine, beer, or sourdough bread, which use fermentation in the process of creating the beverage or bread, no beneficial bacteria remains in the final product. Komucha, on the other hand, is a fermented tea while contains an abundance of healthy probiotics. I brew my own and it's a fairly easy process to learn, but there are many commercially available kombuchas available at health food and regular grocery stores. If you need advice on how to find a good kombucha, ask away! The final product is a slightly sour bubbly drink, so I'd recommend trying one infused with a favorite flavor such as berry or peach. While over the counter probiotic pills are available, they're considered dietary supplements, which do not require FDA approval. Feel free to look into probiotic supplements, however, for this reason alone I generally suggesting getting your gut boosting probiotics from real food sources. Many probiotics also contain common bacteria strains that you may not need in abundance.
Here's your nerdy info on that:
You can also get good probiotics from yogurt and fermented veggies like kimchee, sauerkraut, and lacto-fermented pickles. Check your labels, as a lot of these are brine pickled and while yummy, they're not fermented and don't offer the same benefit. A lot of stores and farmers markets carry lacto-fermented veggies, and they're really well worth the investment! Yogurt is an easy one, but try to avoid high sugar yogurts that do about as much harm as good, as sugar is a pro-inflammatory food. Opt instead for plain yogurt and add your own toppings like fruit, nuts, seeds, healthy granola, unsweetened coconut, pure maple syrup and raw honey. It's pretty fun to put together new yogurt bowls, and the possibilities are endless. Why do we need all this additional bacteria? Well, we live in a more hygienic world than in years and centuries past, as well as having sometimes life saving antibiotics available for treatment of infection. The double edged sword that is antibiotics means that while we're eliminating an invading bacteria, we're destroying the beneficial bacteria as well. In an even bigger irony, sometimes antibiotic use can lead to more persistent bacterial infections such as the C-Diff and MRSA; C- Diff and Staff bacteria are common and live in your nose, gut, and other places at any given time, the beneficial bacteria keep their population under control, but when these super bugs get a "clean slate", they're able to thrive and flourish unchecked. And guess what the treatment for these infections are? If you guessed antibiotics, you'd be correct. The process is complicated, but broad-spectrum (kills everything, basically) antibiotics have been shown to increase the likelihood of autoimmune disease:
Basically, we need those healthy bacteria to stay happy, so try an add more into your diet!