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Mindfulness Archives | Elizabeth Borelli

Archive for the ‘Mindfulness’ Category

No Mud, No Lotus; 3 Simple Morning Habits to Optimize Your Day

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

As a busy mom on the brink of menopause and more pointedly, a member of modern civilization, I sometimes get stressed.  And I’m not alone.  Ask anyone you meet how they’re doing and chances are the word “busy” will pop up at least once throughout the conversation, usually within the first 3 sentences.

We live in a caffeinated society, and the pace can sometimes feel overwhelming.  Studies show that more than 40% of adults report chronic insomnia brought about by daily life stress.  Sleep is a huge health predictor, and when you don’t get enough of it, it’s harder to deal with those everyday stressors, which carry over into nighttime when they keep you lying awake yet again.

Eventually you may find yourself caught in a self-defeating cycle that if left unchecked, can result in depression and anxiety.  And while there are sleep aids, both natural and pharmaceutical, to help us manage insomnia,but studies have shown prevention is both more effective and side-effect free.

So then, how do you get through the day without letting stress set your neuroendocrine system all a-flutter?   Of course we’re all maxed out time-wise, and adding more work to you list may seem counterintuitive,  but luckily effective doesn’t have to mean time-consuming.

I invite you to try starting your day off right with these 3 simple habits designed to help keep you even-keeled throughout the day, no matter what life may spring on you.

1. Meditate.  As little as 10 minutes a day can make a world of difference.  And meditation is a surprisingly simple practice.  Find an online resource, or follow these basic steps to get started

  • Create your special space.  Find a peaceful spot, anywhere you can enjoy a few minutes of quiet, uninterrupted time.  Set up a blanket or cushion if you need it.
  • Set a timer so you can focus on your breath without checking the clock
  • Sit up straight and comfortably.  Legs crossed is the classic pose, but worry more about keeping your spine aligned and well-supported, so if you need to lean again something, feel free.  The goal is to be relaxed and alert.
  • Close your eyes and focus on your breath
  • Practice taking deep, 4-5 count breathes through your nose, allowing your lungs to fully expand, then completely empty with each round
  • Focus your attention on your breath, and practice putting aside all the other thoughts that bombard your brain.
  • When your mind wanders, return it to the breath, unfazed.  This is the practice, which when practiced daily, will help you to feel calmer, less reactive and more in control of your emotional self.

2. Enjoy a healthy breakfast.  It can be challenging to rethink our standard notions of cereal and milk, bacon and eggs or nothing but coffee for breakfast, but I invite you to give it a try.  The first meal of the day can set the tone for how the rest of it unfolds.  By setting yourself up with a high-fiber, nutrient-rich and satisfying start, you focus your day in a healthy direction from the get-go.

Leave your notions of time constraints aside for a moment as you envision yourself enjoying hearty fruit and nut oatmeal, Chia Breakfast Pudding or a supercharged smoothie all can be prepped the night before to whip together the next morning in under ten!

3.  Practice gratitude. This simple practice is so powerful, you’ll begin to experience benefits such as increased awareness, a heightened sense of appreciation and focus on the positive soon after starting.  How to do it?

  • Pick up a notebook, plain or fancy doesn’t matter, and create a Gratitude Journal.
  • Take a moment each morning to set an intention to notice moments of gratitude throughout your day.
  • On Friday morning, simply write down five things you experienced in the past week for which you’re grateful.
  • For more tips on gratitude journaling, check out this article on Greater Good.

These little tricks take under 30 minutes combined.  I suggest you try all three, even if it means waking up 30 minutes earlier, as I initially forced myself to do.  Unpleasant as that sounds, I promise you that after a week or so, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner.  In the words of modern day philosopher Thich Nat Hahn, “no mud, no lotus”.

I hope you won’t wait one day longer to prioritize your health and begin moving closer toward living your best life, starting today!

Happier this Holiday; 4 Simple Tips

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

With holidays in full swing, it’s hard to ignore the hailstorm of glittery magazine ads, TV commercials and gift lists.  From Mariah in her Santa cap to every decked out retail storefront, we’re sold on a set of high expectations, very temptingly packaged.  So it’s barely surprising that this time meant for focus on family, appreciation and sharing tends to turn into a combination stressfest and consumption conundrum.

Fortunately, it’s easy to try a different kind of holiday this year, one that involves less over-commitment, guilt and anxiety.  When you focus on giving your attention and intention to the ones you love, including yourself, less stress and more time to enjoy life will naturally follow.

Here are four simple steps toward a less stressful holiday season, no inebriates required:

  1. Make your happiness a priority!

Over commitment is one of the major causes of stress and stress leads to unhappiness.  It’s okay to set limits for yourself and uphold them, which sometimes means having to say no.  As explained in The Happiness Project:  One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy; One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.

  1. Presence over perfection.

We’re so bombarded with media images at this time of year, all designed by the best minds in the business to make us feel the need to achieve a certain level of perfection.  Decide what is important for your family and make that the center of your celebration.  When we make a conscious decision to appreciate what’s most important, a lot of the little things that otherwise stress us out become less noticeable.

  1. Meditate, even for a few minutes.

Research shows that meditation, even just ten minutes a day, is one of the most reliable ways to increase our natural tendency toward happiness.  And don’t worry about being good at it  Because even if you are terrible at meditating and your mind races and you struggle to sit still, those few minutes are still beneficial in improving physical, mental and emotional well-being.

  1. Skip the super-size….on everything!

Shop less.  You’ll have more time, extra money and create less waste.  We’re so programmed to believe we have to meet some set of expectations that may not even be accurately understood, we often unnecessarily overdo it.  Communicate with people you’re exchanging gifts with and see if down-sizing is an option.  Or if not, get creative.  Coupons for activities together (your treat), resale gifts or even home-made items make meaningful, less expensive gifts.   There are many ways to reduce spending and save time over the holidays, reducing your consumption is one of them.

So consider adopting even one of these habits this holiday season and see how it goes!  (and of course if you shop local and buy organic, all the merrier!)   However you do it, be present, stay calm and enjoy your holidays!

Insomnia SOS, An 8 Step Action Plan

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

This week’s focus was originally fast and frugal fall foods, but with the sweltering week-long Northern California heat wave I just couldn’t bring myself to post it. At the same time, a bout of insomnia that can only be explained by a combination of heat and hormones had me all a-fluster. After 5 torturous nights I began to see sleep-deprivation for the sanity-testing problem it can become.

When people asked me for sleep suggestions, my advice was simple; regular schedule, no caffeine after noon, unplug at least an hour before bed, you’ll be fine. I had recently even adjusted my regular sleep schedule so I was getting up earlier and getting more done, which was nice. Looking back, I suppose I was feeling pretty smug.

So did I get my words served up on a silver platter when I found myself reduces to tears at 3 am after a week of sleep deprivation.

It was the same every night; falling asleep, no problem. Staying asleep? Bloody hell. I tried all my usual tricks and practiced the deep breathing techniques that typically work. Nothing.

I take my slumber very seriously, and given the studies associating lack of sleep with all kinds of unpleasantness, from weight gain to depression, so I was determined to resolve this, fast.

I found an article written by Dr. Shelby Freedman Harris, Director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine program at a highly accredited medical center in New York. Since reliability on these matters can vary and there are dozens of suggestions for cures, I thought Dr. Harris’ advice was both succinct enough to manage and safe enough to trust.  Steps 1-5 of the Action Plan below are based on her suggestions, and I added a few more culled from various sources to incorporate the additional measures that in combination delivered results.

Insomnia SOS, An 8 Step Action Plan:

1. Dim your lights an hour before bed time to start winding down, but not so dim you can’t read (I added that last part). A good magazine is an easy-reading treat if you don’t have a good novel.

2. Avoid looking at anything with a screen. This includes phone and TV. This is the most challenging suggestion for me, since I like to watch videos to relax before bed, which clearly was not the right strategy.

3. Practice a body-scan meditation right before bed to help you to relax. Here is a link to a good one:

4. Focus on your breath as you try to relax and keep ruminations at bay. This can be hard when you’re in an emotional place. Another expert suggests it can help to actually get up and write down your challenge to revisit tomorrow, which sounds like a good one to try.

5. If it’s not working, try getting out of bed and repeat the body-can meditation again. As counterintuitive as it sounds, Dr. Harris recommends staying in your seated meditation until you’re sleepy.

These exercises did help somewhat. But again I found myself up for close to 2 hours over the course of the night.

I knew needed to step it up so I did some more research.

6. This simple yoga pose (see top of post) was featured on Health.com to help with relaxation but will it cure the meno-insomnia blues? Considering I could do it in my pajamas it would be 5 minutes well spent, so I added it to my nighttime routine. I can’t say I noticed a measurable difference in sleep quality, so although I like the notion but the jury is still out.

The following day I recognized another possibility right there in front of me; supplements. I’ve read both positive and negative reviews about the efficacy of sleep supplements, so I thought I’d better review the options. It was hard to find valid research concluding that herbal sleep remedies really work. In fact according to an expert on Harvard Health Publications, the studies are actually inconclusive:

7. Valerian root “Some studies suggest that valerian is mildly sedating and can help people fall asleep and improve their sleep quality. But the evidence is mixed. An analysis of multiple studies of valerian’s effect on sleep published in 2010 concluded that people fell asleep only about a minute sooner than with a sugar pill.”

8. Melatonin has shown some evidence of reducing insomnia in people over 60, yet studies supporting its effect on the rest of the population are inconclusive.

L-Theanine and the other commonly recommended natural remedies fared no better in terms of scientific evidence.

Regardless, I had to give it a fair shake and I purchased a bottle of valerian tablets right away. As I’m posting this, I’ve had 2 successful nights of sound sleep for which I credit my combination of relaxation techniques, including the yoga headstand, and a valerian root supplement. Sometimes it takes a village.

I’m cautiously optimistic, but just to be on the safe side I’ve also gone 100% decaf. I can thank this little experience for teaching me to work a good night’s sleep into my daily routine, because now I know first-hand, few things are as important to happiness and well-being.

Let me know in comments if you have any helpful suggestions for getting good night’s sleep!

Feeling Discouraged? Try these 3 techniques to stay on track with your goals

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Recently I was reminded of just how difficult the change process can be.  Ten years ago, I struggled relentlessly with healthy eating and body image.  After devoting the last decade to understanding good nutrition and healthy eating habits, my set of challenges has changed.  My passion for developing effective methods for using this information to help others presents a new set of struggles, and the emotions invoked can be just as painful.

Working toward a goal, whether it’s changing your eating habits, maintaining an exercise program or improving your skillset is always a challenge.  In the age of the iPhone, we tend to live in instant gratification mode.  This is why it’s easy to believe that the short-cut solution to achieving your dreams is out there – you just need to find the right one.

Newsflash, when it comes to changing habits for the long-term, there is no such thing as instant success.  Change is both a process and a struggle, but it’s not one we need to go alone. .As I face the challenges of growing a business, feelings of failure and gnawing self-doubt are inevitable. Unpleasant as they may be, they’re part of the process.  It’s tempting to look at other people who have achieved the goals you’re striving toward with something akin to envy as you wonder how they got so lucky.

Yet what we don’t see when we look longingly at the lives of successful people, is the blood, sweat and tears they put out to meet their goals just like you are.  The difference lies not in your ability, but your willingness to work through the hard times and keep moving forward.

So when the going gets tough, temptation is great and you just feel like giving up altogether, how do you get through the rough spots and stay the course?

Here are 3 techniques for staying on track with your goals:

1. Set a daily intention.  Do you have a wakeup ritual, or a short morning practice you do each day?  It’s a key strategy for super-stars from Tony Robbins to Marie Forleo.  This can take as little as 5 minutes of simply checking in with yourself and envisioning your goal for the day.  This simple practice reminds us to take one day at a time, and stay on track with our intention, even if it’s just for today.

2. Out of sight, out of mind.  If you’re regularly tempted by anything that threatens to stand between you and your goal, it’s time to restructure.

  • Don’t have anything in your fridge or cabinets you don’t want to eat, and if your living situation renders that impossible, at least place tempting foods and drinks out of plain view and swap in some healthier alternatives..
  • If driving by a favorite treat spot is too tempting, find another route.
  • Set up your environment so distractions like the TV, computer or other time-consuming activities are less visible, replaced by the goods that support your new habits – running shoes, meditation cushions, your gratitude journal.  We’re always being triggered by our environment; put your cues to work for you!

3. Find your tribe.   In their bestselling guide to forming new habits, Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success, the authors stress the importance of finding friends vs. accomplices.  Accomplices are those acquaintances that enabled your old habits, whether as participants or encouragers.  Friends are the people who will encourage you to reach your goals.  So even if  you need to join a support group or change who you spend your time with, ultimately this can make or break your success.

Remember, your goals are worth fighting for, and while forming healthy habits is a process and a challenge, when you change your life for the better, you’ll know it was worth every step.

How to Make Friends with Stress, 4 Simple Tips

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

In today’s busy reality, pressure and stress have become the new normal.   It seems the more energy or effort required of us, the more stressful our lives become.  All of which sounds rather depressing, or at very least more bad than good.

But upon closer examination, how accurate is that assumption?  Research actually shows the opposite is true.  It turns out that challenging or difficult situations actually have a positive relationship to stress.

All of which makes perfect sense when you reframe things slightly.  One popular example is the fact that regular exercise releases endorphins that cause us to feel good.

But even seemingly high pressure situations like preparing for a big presentation, exam or event can be healthy.  Stress and energy are undeniably intertwined, but by channeling the healthy aspects of stress you can boost energy in a positive way.

Here are 4 easy ways to put that stress to work for you.

1.  Breathe You’re probably familiar with the connection between the breath and stress reduction. As it turns out, deep breathing is not only relaxing, it’s been scientifically proven to affect the brain, the heart, digestion and the immune system.

New to deep breathing practices?  Try this simple technique known as Equal Breathing.   Start by inhaling for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four.  Breathe through your nose, which adds a natural resistance to the breath.

Stay with it for at least 6 cycles, breathing in and out with the same goal in mind: calm the nervous system, increase focus and reduce stress.

2.  Pause  Taking intentional time out of a hectic project or during a transition time and stopping for 2 minutes to reconnect with breath helps us to stay present so we can focus on the task at hand.  Boost your focus muscle, which will help to keep you grounded and present.

The habit of taking a step back whenever you have the downtime will help you to be able to stay present and reduce your reliance on mindless behaviors that might not be the healthier ones.

3.  Move  Of course all exercise is a bonus, but even a 10 minute walk can clear your head and boost your endorphins (AKA happiness hormones).  If you have a chance to walk in a scenic outdoor environment, all the better for improving your mood.

4.  Organize and prioritize  Often in our busy lives we keeping piling on tasks to an overflowing list, without stopping to consider how important it really is to complete each and every one of them immediately.

Take the time to re-evaluate and prioritize the truly pressing items.  Reschedule those that aren’t time critical so they’re not looming over you adding additional pressure unnecessarily.

When life demands more than we really want to give it, it’s important to realize these challenges don’t need to drain or weaken us.  We can actually use this impetus to create a result that is not only better for dealing with stressors, but also healthier for us long-term.

 

4 Simple Tricks to Increase your Inner Strength

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

With the holidays safely behind us and a fresh new year unfolding ahead, you may be thinking about how you want to show up differently in 2015.  This is a beautiful time to step back, reflect, and decide who it is we really want to be going forward.

Maybe you’re still cultivating the seeds of change you planted for the New Year; integrating them into your days with such commitment they’re beginning to form healthy new habits.  Or maybe that first propagation didn’t yield the way you were hoping, so now you’re revisiting your intention to more carefully assess the best way to fulfill it.

Personally, I spend a lot of time in the car listening to psychology lectures, so either way, I have some insight.  In truth, I earned my bachelor’s degree on the subject and have always been fascinated by the study of behavior and motivation.  And lately, the topic of self-control, or inner strength, has been top of mind for me since it’s pretty central to most of life’s resolutions, New Year’s or otherwise.

Why?  Of all of the life goals we can focus on, what makes the practice of self-control so special?  For one thing, self-control can be thought of as inner strength, which is key to the ability to persist in the face of failure.  Inner strength helps us to stick to our beliefs, and to behave in cooperation with our highest selves.  And who doesn’t need more of that kind of mojo?

The beauty part is, there are easy ways to build this characteristic, which as a deplete-able energy source, benefits from our commitment to keep it fueled.  There is no pop-a-pill remedy for cultivating self-control, but there are some scientifically proven techniques that when practiced daily, help us to develop it.

Here are 4 simple tricks to increase your inner strength:

I’ll begin with the easiest one, which may be a given for you, but this might also serve as a good reminder of why it’s so important:  get enough sleep!  7-8 hours of regular sleep time is inextricably linked to higher levels of self-control.  And since self-control diminishes as we become physically or emotionally tired, you’ll probably find yourself more vulnerable to making decisions that don’t serve you as the evening progresses.

Quick tip:  Don’t hit send on that late night email until the next morning!

Snack wisely:   Strong self-control requires energy, and energy requires sufficient levels of glucose in the brain.  Since blood glucose, or sugar levels adjust in direct response to the food we eat, it makes sense to select your snacks accordingly.  Refined foods, whether or not they’re high in sugar to begin with, convert very quickly to sugar, causing the spike and resulting crash in blood sugar levels we inner strength gardeners will want to avoid. 

Set yourself up for success and keep your stash of whole, fiber-rich snacks handier than any packaged foods you can’t otherwise completely avoid.  Need suggestions?   Click here for a list of helpful tips to make selecting smart snacks a breeze!

Daily affirmation:  Taking the time out to reflect on your core values and beliefs and reaffirming why they’re important to you is key to staying on track with your long-term priorities.  I know when I stop and take five to reflect on the importance of staying calm in the face of morning pre-teen insanity making us late for school again, things go much better than if I hop the meditation cushion and head straight for the kitchen.

Just a few minutes of checking in after you wake up will work wonders, and if you really want to take it up a notch, write it down.

Self-monitoring:  Self-control energy is a function of both body and mind.  Plenty of sleep and the right foods help to keep the physical side in check, but diminished mental energy, known as ego depletion, can benefit from a bigger boost.  This explains why the best of intentions to exercise or eat healthy can be sidelines when a big presentation or an intense day at work takes a toll.  Suddenly our inner strength just flies out the window and we find we can’t seem to leave the couch.

This is where a mindfulness practices can help.  Activities requiring intense concentration or focus drain our energy reserves, leaving us feeling on edge and weakening our resolve, but a simple self-monitoring practice can steer you back on track.

When you feel yourself fading, try taking some time out to mentally check in, and monitor your present state of mind. Intentionally stepping back your emotional attachment and simply observing your breath, free of judgment, is a great way to replenish your energy.  Click here for more mindfulness and meditation techniques, or check out this simple meditation video.

4 Mindful New Year’s Resolution Strategies for 2015

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

The transition out of the old year and into the new offers space to take pause.  Lots of us use this time to take stock of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we want to be. This is a chance to let go of the past as a clean new slate opens up just waiting to be filled.  So can you guess what the number one way most of us want to show up differently in the coming New Year?  The number one resolution this year is the same one most of us made in years prior; weight loss.

Unfortunately the one thing that New Year’s resolutions and diets have in common is that fact that most of them barely make it past the 6 month mark, which doesn’t bode well for next year, or the following; you get the picture.  Clearly something’s amiss.

The upside to all of this is that so many of us are motivated to make positive changes in our health, in addition to weight loss, improved eating habits and engaging in more exercise also made the list.  We want to improve our health and our wellbeing, but we need more than willpower to make what scientists refer to as these “adaptive challenges” stick.

So if willpower won’t cut it, what will?    One answer lies within an increasingly growing trend based on practices thousands of years old; the practice of mindfulness.

In scientific terms, mindfulness is defined as a series of self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being  (resulting in such benefits) as calmness, clarity and concentration (Walsh & Shapiro, 2006).

In approachable terms, mindfulness practices span from meditation to gratitude, or any activity that allows you to tune out and tune in.  In other words, taking a break from the noise and confusion as you focus on your breath, or the things in life you’re grateful for.  Mindfulness gives us the ability to just be in the moment, free of judgment or drama, allowing us to step back and objectively observe.  Ultimately the practice of redirecting our attention to a more positive state, allows us to access calm amidst chaos, even when we’re not engaged in practice.

The reality is, most of the time (up to 90%) we’re operating on auto-pilot, simply falling back into old habits that no longer serve us. Developing a mindfulness practice teaches us to step back and calmly assess a situation before we react, giving us space to rethink our automated responses.  And it works!  As a former emotional eater, I ran the exact same pattern when I came home from a stressful day at work – self-soothing with food.

But after years of developing these simple practices, I give myself the option of another choice.  I can head to my meditation cushion and breathe myself into a state of calm in a few short minutes.  Then I no longer feel the need to self-medicate with a sweet treat, a glass of wine, or whatever the go-to happens to be.  I have a great new alternative that doesn’t leave me with a hangover, and instead moves me toward a healthier future.  Meditation is scientifically proven to help practitioners to resolve addictions, lower stress and maintain a positive outlook, as this practice helps build a natural defense against the lure of addictive habits.

Here are 4 Mindful New Year’s Resolution Strategies designed for your busy life, so you can begin reaping benefits that grow with each day. 

Develop a Short Morning Meditation Ritual

Establish a readily accessible space at home where you can set up a cushion and sit comfortably, keeping your spine upright.  Begin your day with a simple breathing exercise, like deep breathing (see below) or basic breath awareness.

Sit comfortably in a chair, or cross-legged on a cushion. Rest your hands lightly on your knees with your palms facing up. Touch the tips of your index fingers to the pads of your thumbs as you create a circle of unity within. Straighten your arms and feel the energy radiating from your heart to your hands.

Gently close your eyes and take a normal breath. Now begin taking slow deep breaths, known as Ujjayi breath.  From the Chopra Center, here is how:

  • Take an inhalation that is slightly deeper than normal. With your mouth closed, exhale through your nose while constricting your throat muscles. If you are doing this correctly, you should sound like Darth Vader from Star Wars.
  • Another way to get the hang of this practice is to try exhaling the sound “haaaaah” with your mouth open. Now make a similar sound with your mouth closed, feeling the outflow of air through your nasal passages. Once you have mastered this on the outflow, use the same method for the inflow breath, gently constricting your throat as you inhale.

Practice this style of breathing as you make every effort to focus on your breath, ignoring the thoughts that will insistently try to distract you.  Every time you feel caught up in a thought, a feeling, or anything other than the present moment, just take your attention back the breath.  And you’ll do this many times, this is the practice.  Sit for 5-10 minutes each morning and discover the benefits throughout your whole day.

Engage in a Deep Breathing Practice (from the Harvard School of Public Health):

To practice this technique, begin by finding a comfortable, quiet place to sit or lie down. Start by observing your breath. First, take a normal breath. Now try taking a slow, deep breath. The air coming in through your nose should feel as though it moves downward into your lower belly. Let your abdomen expand fully.

Now breathe out through your mouth (or your nose, if that feels more natural). Alternate normal and deep breaths several times. Pay attention to how you feel when you inhale and exhale normally and when you breathe deeply. Shallow breathing often feels tense and constricted, while deep breathing produces relaxation.

Continue this for several minutes. Put one hand on your abdomen, just below your belly button. Feel your hand rise about an inch each time you inhale and fall about an inch each time you exhale. Your chest will rise slightly, too, in concert with your abdomen. Remember to relax your belly so that each inhalation expands it fully.

Try to practice this breathing technique for 15 to 20 minutes every day. You might also try shorter bouts lasting a few minutes when anxiety begins to build, to see if this feels calming.

Start a Gratitude Journal

By taking some uninterrupted time each day to really reflect on what you’re grateful for, you actually help your brain to reframe the rest of your day in a more positive light.  It can be as simple as recording 5 things you feel grateful for in a journal, which you update on a daily basis, or a deeper reflection on one of your gifts, where you really ruminate on all of your reasons for appreciation.

If you really feel inspired to embrace this practice, try the challenge below:

14-Day Gratitude Challenge (from Personal Excellence)

  • Day 0: Start a Gratitude Journal
  • Day 1: Write 10 Things You are Grateful For in Your Life
  • Day 2: Give Thanks for Your Food
  • Day 3: Write a Gratitude Note to Someone
  • Day 4: Reflect on the Meaning of Gratitude
  • Day 5: Identify 3 Things to Appreciate about Your Adversary Day 6: Give Thanks for Your Life
  • Day 7: Give Thanks to Yourself
  • Day 8: Transform an Ungrateful Thought
  • Day 9: Share Something You are Grateful For with Someone Day 10: Give a Gratituity Tip
  • Day 11: List 3 Things You Tend to Take For Granted (and What You Plan to Do About Them)
  • Day 12:  Take Action on Your Plan from Day 11!
  • Day 13: Do a Gratitude Meditation
  • Day 14: Give Thanks for Your Mistakes

Try a Body Scan Meditation: (based on the work of John Kabat-Zinn)

Find a quiet space where you can close your eyes for 5-10 minutes to engage in this simple practice, designed to reduce reactivity and stress in everyday interactions.

Steady your breath by slowly and consciously breathing in and holding  at the peak of the inhale for a second or two.  Repeat on the out breath, holding briefly at the peak of the exhale before repeating.  Take a few minutes to slowly scan your entire body, starting at your toes.  Notice any sensations in your body without trying to change them.

If you prefer a guided practice, try this 8 minute seated body scan:

If you’re new to the concept of mindfulness, you may try adopting the practice that sounds easiest to incorporate into your day.  Personally, I keep my meditation cushion at the foot of my bed, so if I don’t stop and sit first thing in the morning, I’ll trip over it.

Learning to slow down and live more mindfully will affect every aspect of your being, so whatever your resolution this New Year, using meditation to improve the quality of your mental state will have a positive effect on your entire life.

10 Tips for Making Mindless Eating Work for You

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

If you’re anything like 90% of us, you think you’re doing a pretty good job with your eating choices.  Granola over cookies, juice or tea over soda, hold the mayo on that whole wheat sandwich.  But do you really know for sure?  As recent studies show, probably not.

Research shows that people make an average of 247 food related choices per day, yet are conscious of only about 5% of them.  And according to a recent Consumer Reports study, 9 out of 10 of us think our choices are good.  But by adapting your everyday environment to help you adopt new behaviors, you can turn mindless habits into healthy ones!

Brian Wansink, Ph.D and author of bestselling Mindless Eating has generated a new science from this very phenomenon.  Shifting mindless eating habits from bad to good is really doable.  And none of us, regardless of how well we know the pitfalls, is truly immune to mindless eating.  Our ever-present food environment makes sure of it.

The good news is, we can take steps to avoid having to remain constantly vigilant to the lure of temptation in the first place.  It’s called creating an environment for success, and you’d be surprised at the difference a few simple changes to your routine can make, without you even noticing never mind feeling deprived or dissatisfied.

Of course there are those times you have no choice but to eat on the go, even if you know you should sit down and enjoy every bite.  When you’re too rushed in the morning (or afternoon), to sit down for the short time it takes to spoon down some oatmeal, you’d rather not miss the boat altogether.  And then there are other times, when you might want to veg in front of a movie and snack on some popcorn, even though this falls squarely into the mindless eating category.

Then there are all the rest of the times when you don’t even know you’re doing it, hence the unmistakably descriptive term.  For most people mindless eating is a habit that could benefit from some fresh visitation, but even the best of intentions probably won’t produce a complete turnaround starting now.  It will be a transition process, a journey worth making for a personal transformation capable of affecting everything from weight loss to energy level.  These simple tips can help you along the way, and after you’re up to speed on conscious food choices, they’re good guidelines to live by.

10 Tips for Making Mindless Eating Work for you

  1. Adjust your go-to snack plan.  When you dip into the cabinet or hover in front of the fridge, you’ll often grab the first easy-to-much option, so this is not the best place to leave the cheese puffs. Keep pre-cut veggies readily available for your next mindless munch out, and you’ll benefit from the extra fiber and nutrients these healthy snacks provide.
  2. Read labels, always.  Studies show that women who read nutrition labels are an average of 8 pounds lighter than non-label readers.  And “label” doesn’t refer to the promo on the front of the package that says “low fat”, you need to turn to the fine print on the side panel.  Even if you have to squint, and don’t know what all of the numbers mean, be sure to always check the number of serving sizes, it’s often surprising!  Then move on to read the ingredients list, and if it contains items that sound like chemicals or other foreign objects, know you’re better off without it.
  3. Prioritize fiber foods  Studies show a strong association between an increased consumption of refined carbohydrates in the form of corn syrup, a decreased consumption of dietary fiber, and an increased prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the United States.  Despite what you commonly hear, protein is not the dietary shortfall, fiber is.  Choose whole grains instead of refined and select packaged snacks with at least 4 grams of fiber per serving.
  4. Keep serving dishes off of the table.  Most of us eat more food than we think.  You can avoid doing this by putting a single serving of food on a plate, forcing yourself to leave the table to refill instead of continuing to eat after you’re satisfied (a common problem when good food is within reach).
  5. Never nosh straight from the package.  I’m sure you’ve heard this one before, but it may be time to revisit it.  Measure out a portion according to the label on the side of the package, put it on a plate, sit down and enjoy every bite!
  6. Use the power of illusion to feel satisfied, not overstuffed.  Studies show that people eat 25-30% more food off of large plates than they do off of small ones, but feel equally full.  Therefore, use smaller plates!  We’ve been doing this at my house for years, works like a charm!
  7. Skip the diet soda. New studies find artificial sweeteners actually linked to obesity.  While it makes sense to keep sugar at a minimum, Nutrasweet is not your best option.  Stevia, on the other hand, is a naturally derived herbal sweetener that has no dubious ties to medical conditions.  Give it a try!
  8. Replace, or reduce don’t deprive.  Take the time to try out healthier alternatives to what you’re currently eating until you find ones you like as much as your former go-to favorites.  In the case of the plate, just redistribute your proportions to 50% veggies, 25% starch and 25% protein (plant-based where possible).  You’ll still enjoy the same volume of food, and the additional fiber will keep you satisfied.
  9. Start with small changes, 3 goals for better food choices is the number experts recommend initially adopting, until you find yourself comfortably acclimated and ready to take on more.  This is a plan for life, so slow going is recommened.
  10. Interested in weight loss?  Keep a daily food journal and lose 2x the weight.  Just the act of writing it down produces results.  Successful food journals ask you to record everything you eat, at the time you eat it, including portion sizes and calorie counts.  The best ones ask to you record hunger levels, related emotions, cravings and food triggers.  Here is a free one from food psychology guru, Dr. Brian Wansink, or there are dozens of programs and apps to choose from.  However you do it, record your data!

Congratulations for beginning your journey to a healthy new you.  Make your mindless eating habits work as a cornerstone of your transition from our refined carb culture to real, nourishing food choices, beginning today!

Mama Bear’s Top Ten Tips for Happy Healthy Eaters

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Most of us moms are familiar with the scary stats on rising rates of obesity in the US, it’s true.  Yet in between the constant stream of homework, play dates and little league, it’s not something we generally worry about day-to-day.

But here’s the troubling thing; certain influential entities are lurking and we parents need to stay on our toes. Now that might appear accusatory and even sinister coming from a cheery gal like myself, but I’m talking about corporations that are actively targeting their junk food ads to kids.

Sound crazy?  Think again; food industry CEOs aren’t forking out their billions (yes that’s billions with a b) in annual advertising strategies aimed at our children for nothing.  And they’re lobbying Congress like crazy to make sure nobody stands in their way. (more…)

Guest Blog by Evie Borchard- Children and healthy eating: take away the chemicals, not the calories

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

We’re talking about growing kids here; kids whose metabolisms are likely going at record speeds (perhaps to our envy).  Unfortunately, it’s almost common belief that they should be able to eat all the fast food they want while they can “afford” to. After all, why should we parents deprive our children of the Poptarts, Chicken McNuggets, soda pops, and cheesy fries that all the kids at school enjoy regularly? Don’t they have the rest of their lives to worry about illnesses like type II diabetes, obesity,  and heart disease?

However, the connection between children and healthy eating is huge. It used to be unheard of for kids to be at risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease at their young age, but when living on a western diet packed with trans-fat, high fructose corn syrup and other artificially calorie-dense foods, our children are ballooning to abnormal weights and becoming susceptible to health problems associated with the adult population. Indeed, healthy eating isn’t only for grown-ups. 

And although childhood obesity is on the rise,  overweight children aren’t the only ones at risk:  all young’ns who are eating  Mickey D’s and Ho-Hos regularly are increasing their chances of encountering future health problems.  Yup, this means the “skinny kids”.  Parents of these kids tend to receive conflicting messages regarding what their kids should be eating.  Despite common belief-and even certain doctors’ orders- you don’t need to be feeding your kids Happy Meals to fatten them up (like my parents did).  These pseudo-foods will leave your children prone to developing diet-related illnesses and could cause them to develop a taste for junk food, making fast-food-eating a habit manifesting through adulthood.  Surely there must be a method for safe and healthy weight gain in children.

Basically, the salty, mouth-watering, artificially-spiced fast food a young child is consuming actually has addictive properties, which causes healthier alternatives such as fruits and vegetables to taste blander.  For example, the overconsumption of high fructose corn syrup-filled candies may cause fruits to taste strange and less sweet, while regular Happy Meal consumption might make vegetables and beans seem yucky in comparison.  It is pretty self explanatory why this may cause problems down the road. A lack of fruits and vegetables in a child’s diet can cause deficiencies in both macro and micronutrients, and whether or not your child is overweight, the weakened immune system caused by poor nutrition leaves him or her susceptible to various infections and health problems.  For this reason, it’s important for parents to guide children towards developing a taste for healthy and wholesome foods without depriving them.

Instead of looking at healthy eating as deprivation, try to think of it as “crowding out”; you are “crowding out” your children’s typical junk food diet with more wholesome alternatives so there is no longer room for them! Now you might wonder,  “but how in the world will my kids get the calories they need for growth without eating at least some junk food?!” Fortunately, you can try these more calorie-dense healthy options:

1.  Saute and cook vegetables in olive or coconut oil

2.  Add some dried fruits to your kid’s granola or whole-grain cereal to make it more calorie-dense

3. Serve whole-grain crackers with nut butter as a snack: a good source of healthy fats

4. Make vitamin-packed fruit smoothies with nut butters and agave nectar, a low-glycemic sweetener

5. Starchy vegetables are more calorie dense: try making sweet potato fries to replace regular French fries

6.  Bananas and dates are more calorie-dense than most fruits and contain many antioxidants

7. Hemp or soy milk is more calorie-dense than most other types of milk

8. Create your own healthy trail mix with a variety of nuts, dried fruits, and even some organic chocolate chips

9. Here’s a recipe for some super-energy breakfast bars

10. A healthy alternative to Poptarts: Fruit and Nutty Breakfast Bars

 

 

10 tips to streamline your kitchen time and improve your daily diet

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Whether you want to lose weight, stabilize your energy or improve your health, eliminating pre-packaged foods from your diet is the best place to start.  And one major factor in transforming your diet is doing more cooking at home.  For many of us, that mere idea can be scary, but with strategies for success in place, you’ll enjoy the benefits of home cooking without the aggravation.  And believe it or not, when done right, cooking can be fun and creative as well as healthy and delicious. Whether you’re a stranger to your kitchen or simply wish you were, try these helpful tips to streamline the process.  You won’t believe the difference you’ll experience when you can focus on getting your creative juices ready to whip up something fabulous, minus the headache.  Here’s how:

  1. Keep it simple.  Maintain a 1 dish breakfast and lunch, and a 2-3 dish dinner.  Cooking from scratch gives you the opportunity to whip up delicious recipes using less than 5 ingredients, but that combine important food groups.  Oatmeal with fruit and walnuts for breakfast, a quinoa salad for lunch followed by a bean and green sauté over brown rice all give you a huge nutritional hit in one satisfying dish, perfect for maintaining balanced energy all day long.
  2. Strive for satisfaction on 5 ingredients or less.  Look for a cookbook or website that features simple, whole foods cooking and find 2-3 recipes that sound good.  Mark your pages or print the recipes, highlighting what you need to purchase so you don’t have to reread anything to remember.
  3. Get organized! A pre-written grocery list, whether compiled by a healthy foods expert or one you create for yourself, is key to cooking success.  Keep your list near the fridge or on your mobile device so you can keep it current.
  4. Label bulk foods or even bagged rice and beans with listing cooking times and water-to-grain ratio so you don’t need to consult a cookbook ever time you want to prepare them.
  5. Group complementary objects.  If there are ingredients you always use together, store them together for easy access.  For example if you only use oatmeal with raisins, group them side by side even if they’re not your traditional “like-objects”.
  6. Set up to streamline.  Whether you’re working from a recipe or making a favorite you know by heart, take out everything you’ll need to use before you start to streamline the process and save time.   Place foods where they’ll be used, like on the cutting board, next to a bowl or pan.
  7. Grouping tasks saves time.  Wash your produce all together, then take a moment to check out your recipe or think through your plan.   Make sure all of the chopping, peeling and cooking happens simultaneously, store prepped food on dinner plates if you need the work space, you can simply wipe them down and reuse them to avoid more cleanup.  You’ll be amazed by the time difference this can make.
  8. Prepare ahead.   Washing your lettuce or bulk greens as soon as you get them home, then store in a covered glass bowl or green produce bag.  Cook bulk beans or grains (except for rice) that you plan to use within 3-4 days over the weekend or after dinner.  Most need to cook for an hour or more, but require little to no maintenance during cooking, so when you have a stretch of time, take advantage of it.
  9. Skip unnecessary steps.  Carrots, apples and parsnips don’t need to be peeled, nor does garlic that will be used in a press.  Use your kitchen scissors to chop fresh herbs directly into your dish- no cutting board required.  Serve cooked foods in attractive glass storage bowls to avoid unnecessary transfers and dishes.
  10. Enlist a friend.  Take turns bringing lunch to work, set up a weekly pot luck night or trade favorite recipes and cooking tips.  This helps you save to time, but the real benefits are shared experience, camaraderie and good, healthy food.

This may sound like a long list of instructions, but the idea is to adopt the ones that feel right for you, and practice them until they become routine.  Then add on from there.  Gradually adopting new habits will not only help to refine your palette to enjoy less processed foods more, you’ll find preparing them much easier too.  So choose your favorite, add it to your to-do list and take the first step towards healthy eating today!

Unacceptable Levels: A Closer Look at the Chemical Revolution Aftermath

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Every now and then a documentary so gripping comes along that you just have to share it.  Unacceptable Levels is one of those exceptional films, compelling in a way that also touches the heart, bringing a deeper understanding to the truths revealed here.  And we can use this information to make a difference in our own lives and in the lives of others, much more easily then you might think. It’s simply a matter of knowledge and choices.

Unacceptable Levels examines the results of the chemical revolution of the 1940s through the eyes of affable filmmaker Ed Brown, a father seeking to understand the world in which he and his wife are raising their children. To create this debut documentary, Ed takes us along on his journey as he interviews top minds in the fields of science, advocacy, and law searching for answers. Weaving their stories into a compelling narrative, Brown presents us with a revealing look at how the chemical revolution brought us to where we are today, as he empowers us to harness the power of choice to enact change.

At present, film maker Ed Brown is touring the SF Bay area screening the documentary.  I was honored to be asked to join the post film panel discussion for the Santa Cruz showing.  If you’re in the Bay Area, I highly recommend seeing this documentary visionary Paul Hawken calls “ funny, clear and illuminating” at one of the venues below.  Or you can watch for it on NetFlix, but either way, for those of us concerned with the health effects of toxins, Unacceptable Levels is a must see!

Testimonials:

“Unacceptable Levels is a great documentary … about the myriad ways we are being exposed to toxins, poisons and allergens in our daily life. It is sweet, funny, clear, and illuminating.”

– Paul Hawken, best-selling author, founder of Smith & Hawken

“From the products we use, to the food we eat, to the air we breathe, Unacceptable Levels documents how prevalent toxic chemicals have become part of our lives.  Ed Brown uses the powerful connection of family to illustrate how broken our system has become, and why we must do something about it. Our children’s futures depend on it.”

– Gigi Lee Chang, CEO, Healthy Child Healthy World

— PLEASE SHARE with all your Bay Area Friends & Colleagues —


ONE NIGHT ONLY

PALO ALTO • OAKLAND • SAN FRANCISCO
SANTA CRUZ • SACRAMENTO • MILL VALLEY

UNACCEPTABLE LEVELS

An award-winning documentary about the chemicals in our bodies, how they got there 

and what we can do about it.

View trailer: http://unacceptablelevels.com/

 

“Unacceptable Levels” is a no-nonsense documentary that will challenge everything you think you know about health, safety, and environmental protection.” – Beth Buczynski, ecosalon

 

PURCHASE YOUR TICKETS TODAY! 

Tickets must be purchased in advance and will not be available at the door. This is grassroots crowdsourcing – tell the theater you WANT to see this film by purchasing your ticket online through website link associated with the event. Don’t miss a chance to see Unacceptable Levels on the big screen and meet filmmaker Ed Brown!

Mon Feb 24, 7:30 p.m. | PALO ALTO – Aquarius Theatre

www.tugg.com/events/7316

A Benefit for Breast Cancer Action 
Post film Q&A with Annie Sartor, Policy & Campaigns Coordinator Breast Cancer Action;
State Assemblywoman Sally Lieber (Ret.), and Amanda Hawes, Worksafe.

Tues Feb 25, 7:30 p.m. | OAKLAND – Piedmont Theatre

www.tugg.com/events/7317

A Benefit for Earth Island Institute

Post film Q&A with Kevin Connelly, Associate Director Earth Island Institute;
Amanda Hawes, Worksafe; Stacy Malkan, co-founder Campaign for Safe Cosmetics,
and Corey Rennell, Founder Core Foods.

 Wed Feb 26, 6:30 p.m. | SAN FRANCISCO – Embarcadero Center Cinema

http://www.usgbc-ncc.org/component/events/event/1379 (not a Tugg event)

Part of the Building Health Initiative

Post film Q&A with Michael Green, Center for Environmental Health;

Anthony Bernheim, President, Bernheim+ Dean, Inc., hosted by the U.S. Green Building Council –
Northern California Chapter’s Building Health Initiative.

 Thurs Feb 27, 7:30 p.m. | SANTA CRUZ – The Nickelodeon

www.tugg.com/events/7759

A Benefit for Surfing for Change

Post film Q&A with Kyle Thiermann, founder of Surfing for Change and

Elizabeth Borelli, author Beanalicious Living, speaker, wellness advocate

 Mon March 3, 7:30 p.m. | SACRAMENTO – Tower Theatre

www.tugg.com/events/7319

A Benefit for Moms Across America

Post film Q&A with California Department of Toxic Substances Control,
and Kathleen Hallal, Moms Across America co-founder and Mom.

 Tues March 4, 7:30 p.m. | MILL VALLEY – Sequoia Theatre

www.tugg.com/events/7414

A Benefit for Teens Turning Green

Post film Q&A with Judi Shils, Founder/Exec. Director Teens Turning Green;
Debbie Raphael, Director CA Dept. of Toxic Substances Control, and Stacy Malkan, co-founder Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

5 simple steps for bringing more joy into your life

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Life can be so literal – emails and texts, billboards, everywhere we look it’s all spelled out for us.  But what happens when we decide to take the time to let go a little, to loosen up the reins, to examine the space in-between?  Even when know you need a pause in the action in order to find your balance, it’s hard to make it happen, yet numerous health studies recognize it’s important.

In a sea of schedule overload, how do you find the time to slow down, take pause and gain access to your best self?  The answer won’t surprise you, it’s through practice.  The decision to commit to a regular practice in mindfulness can be life changing.  Yet biggest the challenge can be taking the first step to fit it into your hectic routine.  If you’re overwhelmed with life as many of us are, here you may need a hand.

Whether it’s a meditative walk, sitting mantra, pranayama practice or yoga, you can find a way to fit this time into even the busiest schedule if you use these five easy strategies:

  1. Make a commitment to yourself and put it on the calendar.  When will you start; date and time?  Studies show that fitting in a wellness practice early in the morning sets a more positive pace for the rest of your day.  Even if that means getting up a bit earlier in order to fit it in, it’s worth it!
  2. Determine how much time you’re able to commit to; 30 minutes?  An hour?  Which days of the week?  Try committing to two weeks to begin with and after that reevaluate if you need to.  Adjust anything that isn’t working and go for another two weeks and evaluate again.  (see #5)
  3. Decide right now which practice you’ll try, research the options on your area and narrow it down.  Which one fits best with your lifestyle?
  4. Journal your experience.  How is your current stress level?  What do you want to change in your life?  Do a self-assessment of now and calendar a check-in for 2 weeks into your new practice, so you can compare these same feelings at the end of each two week interval.
  5. Identify your space if you’re sitting, route if you’re walking.  Do you need anything to get started?  New shoes, a mat, a meditation cushion?  Prepare in advance to give yourself the best chance of success.

The biggest obstacle to incorporating healthy practices into your life is a lack of motivation to get started.  You’re ready, right now, to take the next step to enjoying all of the rich rewards that come when you create space for your mindfulness practice, so use these five steps to get started today!

Moving Toward Solutions, Pollan’s Edible Education Series and Simple Soul Food

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

There is so much more to food than meets the plate.  Food is emotional, social, political and environmental…among other ideas all brilliantly explored in Michael Pollan’s online UC Berkeley Edible Education Series.  This series of free videos unveils a smorgasbo1-rebecca_stark_MP_0170rd of theory from some of the most influential voices in the food movement.

These engaging hour-long lectures explore a wide range of food-related concepts through the experts who know this subject matter best.  The individual perspectives keep it interesting, where some of the presenters wax philosophical, others prefer to keep it fact-centered.  As a 101 class, nothing is taken for granted, and the ample time frame for lecture followed by Q & A lays a thorough groundwork for understanding.

From a practical standpoint, several concepts from the series stand out.  Dr. Marion Nestle’s work on diet related disease and food safety emphasizes issues created by industrial food marketing and politics.    She compellingly explains how federal and corporate policies have come together to create an “eat more” environment which is one of the main factors in the obesity epidemic we’re facing today.  How do we get healthy food to the people who need it within a system that subsidizes the foods that are making poor people sick?

Pollan recognizes there are no easy answers to these questions.  As a society we’ve made a series of choices that led us here, and reversing the ready availability of cheap, low quality food will be no easy feat.  He additionally reminds us that this is the second food movement of its kind, with a focus on slow, local and organic.  The original movement of the seventies fizzled, and he predicts it’s too soon to tell whether this one will follow the same fate.

Movie director Peter Sellers (oddly enough in this mix) animatedly discusses the spiritual nature of food, suggesting the answer lies there.  His closing comments came as surprisingly solutions-oriented after his colorful lecture.  He proposes that framing the obesity problem as caused by a limited availability of healthy food affordable is oversimplification.  He maintains that the greatest food in history is the working class food that has shaped entire cultures.

Think of how people in the Middle East and Asia eat, and how they enjoy and celebrate simple everyday foods like vegetables, beans, lentils, grains and rice.  Seller’s also points out that these are the foods often containing the most chemically sophisticated combinations of ingredients, nutrients with properties as yet undiscovered.

Inspirational as these lectures are, they do make apparent the both the urgency and complexity of a problem with no easy solution.  Yet rather than dwell on the negative, while waiting for the movement to bring about change.   Progress begins in multiple small ways, personal and community efforts, collaboration among like-minded people.  Clearly in the face of dwindling resources, and consistent with the Edible Education Lecture Series, it’s time to eat closer to the earth, as in more plant-based, nutrient rich, real whole foods.  And reawakening to all of the ways our everyday choices have huge impact all the way around the world makes us remember we do have power.  When we resolve to live mindfully and eat consciously we further the movement toward a solution, gathering momentum one step at a time.

3 Simple Tips to Enliven Your Life With Healthier Food Choices

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Even though 9 out of 10 of us are convinced that our eating habits are healthy, we’re seeing our Mother and daughter in produce sectionalready high diet-related disease rates continue to rise.  I know, I get it; a few years back I was among those 9!

And since back then I was exercising, eating low-fat, high protein foods, getting plenty of fruit and greens and steering clear of anything obviously junky, I thought I was on it.  But it wasn’t until I discovered that my many of my all-natural, fat-free and healthy favorites were full of ingredients that just didn’t belong in food, that I really caught on.

Ten years of search and discovery, trial and tribulation, and a Cornell University Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition later, I’m sharing what I’ve learned.  What you eat makes a huge difference in how you look, think and feel, and if you care about those things, you can change your diet and change your life!

Upgrade your eating habits starting today with three healthier food habits

1.    Commit to cooking and eating more plant-based whole foods.  On average, the American diet is 70% processed foods, and we’re consuming a greater number of empty calories than ever before. We’re meeting less than half of the recommended daily requirements for most essential nutrients, meanwhile doubling down on the foods linked to diet-related disease.  While I don’t agree with the US Department of Agriculture’s recommendations on dairy and seafood (and since these food categories don’t really belong in a list of nutrients per se), it’s otherwise from clear from the USDA chart that replacing refined foods and meat products with fruits, vegetables and whole grains will make a major impact in reversing disease trends.   The best place to get started is right in your own kitchen, where you know exactly what goes into the food you eat.

  2.   Learn to use a healthy whole foods shopping list, like this one!  This list contains      everything I recommend including into your diet, with room to add the things you can’t live without.  Use it to begin to replace some of the items you’re been buying that you know aren’t good for you one or two at a time.   For example, try whole grain bread and pasta instead of white flour-based, or pick up some almonds in place of potato chips to snack on.  And if the preprinted list doesn’t include items you can’t live without (yet!), just list them on the blank lines.  Please don’t list Doritos.

Here are the rules for the getting the most from the list (should you choose to follow them):

  • You must keep this list where you will see it, like on the fridge or on a drawer with your keys in the kitchen.  If not, you will forget to mark it right away when you run out of something and it won’t work.
  • You must commit to stick to the list while shopping.  It’s best to decide up front not to even look at the items you know you shouldn’t buy and won’t miss, but if you happen to notice they’re on sale 2 for 1, all bets are off.  Do yourself a favor and if you’re better off without it, avoid that section of the store.
  • You must inventory your fridge and cabinets before you leave the house to make sure you have yourself covered until the next shopping trip you have scheduled next week.  Because if you plan ahead, you’ve got it!

Keep in mind this simple equation if you get stuck:  fewer trips to the store = less impulse buying = less money spent on bad food = more money to spend on new, possibly smaller sized clothes.

3.    Always read the label.  New studies show that women who read nutrition labels are an average of 8 pounds lighter than non-label readers.  And “label” doesn’t refer to the promo on the front of the package that says “low fat”, you need to turn to the fine print on the side panel.  Even if you have to squint, and don’t know what all of the numbers mean, be sure to always check the number of serving sizes, it’s often surprising!  Then move on to read the ingredients labels, and if it contains products that sound like chemicals, know you’re better off without it.

Remember, the food you eat is inextricably tied to health, energy levels, even happiness, so it’s important to rank it the top priority it deserves to be.  Which sounds easy but it involves knowing how to plan, shop and, for most of us who live within a budget, re-discovering how to cook.   I know you don’t have time.  Neither did I.  I’m a busy, working mom, and I had to struggle through figuring out how to make all those realities fit together.  The strategies and recipes I’ve created are here to help you.

Whether it’s cutting back on prepared foods, including more veggies and fiber in your diet, or swearing off fast food forever, the point is to get started, today!  One step in the right direction will yield numerous benefits.  You’ll also discover delicious new dishes that you didn’t have to pay a lot of money for, food that’s good for you, and you’ll have the satisfaction of having prepared it yourself.  It’s easier than you think when you begin at the beginning, by making a mindful commitment to adapt healthier habits because you’re worth it.  You’re on the start of a journey that could change your life, so take the first step today!

Navigating the Diet, Calorie and Nutrition Conundrum

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

UnknownGuestSpeakerThe New Year is the perfect time to take a step back, look at our lives and really evaluate.  Are you as healthy and happy as you want to be, or are you feeling stuck in sluggish mode?  Especially after the holidays many of us fall into the latter category.  This is not our natural state!  If you’re feeling heavy, tired, or depressed, then your health is out of balance.   Many of us don’t realize that diet plays a key factor in either promoting or alleviating these unhealthy conditions.  The amazingly good news is, you have the ability to rebalance your diet and feel your best right though the everyday choices you make!

Now is the time, and it’s more straightforward than you think.  As you may know, not all calories are created equal, which kind of skews the simple calories in, calories out equation.   Some foods are more high-quality, as in, more nutritionally dense than others.  While you would need to be well-versed in nutrition science to assess this correctly every time, most of us know in general say, that a piece of fruit is healthier than a fruit roll up.  Real food always beats the processed version, we’ll start with that.

Calories differ in other ways too.  Foods like fiber-rich veggies burn calories just through digestion, while other foods, including many ingredients of refined, processed foods, actually incite cravings, and since the body doesn’t get to process refined foods, they go unnoticed by your hunger center.  In short, they just don’t satisfy.

What about Diet?

Of course all of the ado about individual diets creates even more confusion.  And as Nutritionista extraordinaire Meghan Telpner reminds us in her Enliven interview, diets don’t come in one-size-fits-all.   More typically they come in fads, which lots of us try, but just like miniskirts and platform stilettos, they simply won’t work for everybody.  Gluten-free anyone?

The problem with most diets is you have to work to stay on them.  And when you finally take a break, it’s so much more enjoyable you’ve taught yourself to associate diet with denial.  It’s hard to willingly opt for that.  So adapting a new definition of diet may make sense.  It’s really about finding the most nutritionally dense foods that work for your body, without overeating.  And since in general, the most nutritionally dense foods are the most fibrous, filling and satisfying, with some planning ahead you won’t experience the dissatisfaction that leads to cravings and overeating.

How do you find the foods your body needs to feel your best?  First, begin by making sure you’re getting enough of the foods you may be deficient in.  This illustrative chart from the USDA measures the average nutritional profile.AmericanDiet_vs_TargetDiet-560x342

As you can see, Americans are way too low on whole foods, and way too high on solid fats SoFas), saturated fats, refined grains and sodium, all of the ingredients so prevalent in processed foods.  The best place to start improving your eating habits is to replace all of the nutritionally devoid foods shown on the USDA chart, with healthy foods rich in nutrients we’re getting too few of, mainly fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.  I don’t personally agree with the dairy suggestion on the chart, for reasons discussed in depth by author Rita Rivera in her Enliven interview, but the remaining suggestions are generally accepted as good health advice.

So goal number one regardless of the rest of your dietary plan, is to replace refined processed foods with healthy whole foods as much as possible.  On average, 70% of the food we’re eating is processed.  Not all processed foods are bad, but it’s important to avoid the high percentage of overly refined processed foods that have become so widespread in our culture.  This can be tricky, because it does require a bit of working knowledge.  It also involves a habit many of us avoid, reading labels.

Read Food Labels

Food labels are not only confusing, they’re tiny!  But reading them is important, because when you must eat processed (and at least some of the time, many of us must) you don’t have to eat junk.  By making it hard to read and understand the information, manufacturers give themselves plenty of latitude when it comes to ingredients. So even if you can barely make out the words, take the time and do the legwork to source your goods. You’ll be able to navigate the grocery store aisles more easily once you know what to look for.

Here are some simple rules of thumb so if you have to buy packaged foods, at least there’s less of a risk factor.  And even if you go no further and remember nothing else, it will always benefit you to keep in mind this inconvenient truth that we all need to remember: never believe the claims you read on the front of the package.  If you’re interested in making healthier food choices by understanding nutrition labels, here are some tips:

  1. Beware of serving sizes. Not all serving sizes are the same, nor do they necessarily make sense.  Bottled beverages, even those that look like they’re meant for one, often use this tactic to make calorie counts seem lower than they really are.  Even clearly individually packaged items like sports bars and muffins sometimes list two servings per piece, so it always makes sense to check.
  2. In the US, we consume on average 22.2 teaspoons of added sugar per day (more than 4 times the 5 teaspoons the American Heart Association recommends for women), so attempting to reduce when possible is a good idea. Avoid products containing sugar of any kind in the first five ingredients and you’re on the right track.    The most common tactic manufacturers use to sneak it in? Mixing the names of different sweeteners so the weight is spread out among several forms of sugar. Some to look out for:  honey, dextrose, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, molasses, sucrose, fructose, maltose, and lactose.
  3. Sodium content should never exceed the number calories; look for a 1:1 ratio. If a serving of Pop Chips contains 100 calories, be sure it also contains less than 100 grams of sodium. Simple!  It’s also healthier to avoid products containing sodium nitrate, a preservative that’s commonly used in processed meats like bacon, jerky, and lunch meats. Studies link nitrates to diabetes and heart disease.
  4. Shift your focus from fat grams per serving, since serving sizes are quite subjective. Fat content should be no more than 20% of the total calorie content and should contain no trans fats. How to tell? Read the Nutrition Label on the back of the package, find the total calories per serving, and divide by 5. If fat calories are less than 20% of total calories, or if it contains hydrogenated anything, put it back.
  5. Make sure you’re buying whole grains. Claims announcing “Whole-wheat” or “Multi-grain” on the front are not the same thing. Read the Nutrition Label carefully to make sure the word “whole” precedes every grain listed, or look for the “100% whole-grain” claim. This is one term regulated by the FDA to ensure that all grains used in the product are, in fact, whole.
  6. Finally, beware of words you don’t know or recognize in the ingredients. If you wouldn’t stock them in your kitchen, it’s because they don’t belong in your food!  Of course it’s important to focus on what to include, and not just what to avoid.  For a comprehensive shopping list of healthy foods to include in your diet, visit  http://elizabethborelli.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/BeanaliciousShoppingList.pdf

Updating your shopping habits with nutritious choices will make a tremendous difference in your energy level, weight and overall health.  It’s a step-by-step process, and involves a new level of awareness and commitment.  But once you start experiencing the benefits of a better diet, you may be surprised to learn your favorite thing about your new diet is how amazingly delicious that real, healthy food can be!

Mindful Eating, 5 Tips to Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Stick

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

If you’re riding the wellness resolution trend this year, you may want to take note.   While the New Year may harken the best of intentions, they’re usually short-lived.  When it comes to health and mindful eating, less than 10% of resolutions survive the test of time, and I’m talking months, not years.  The fact is, Americans make over 200 food-related decisions per day according to a recent study, yet when asked to estimate that number, participants’ guess an average of 15.  Yes it’s true, the vast majority of our eating is done mindlessly.

But there is good news too!  You have the power to change your mindless eating default and bring these decisions to the forefront (frontal lobes in this case), where they belong.   So IF you’re serious about a New Year’s resolution that involves improving your energy level, losing weight and feeling happier all around, listen up.   Here are some common-sense strategies for making it happen for real this time.

1. Discover your most compelling motive for making change.  Motivation plays the biggest role when it comes to enacting long term, positive behavior change.  But identifying your true motive may not be as obvious as it seems at first glance.  Ask yourself, “Why do I want to lose weight, really?  What will the outcome look or feel like?”  Dig deep and envision clearly.

Leading neuro-science expert Dr. Daniel Amen keeps a picture of his grandson where he’ll see it every day, as a reminder of his real motive for keeping his health a priority.  The mocha fudge becomes less tempting when you connect it to a bigger picture, as in avoiding options that move you further away from your goals.  The same rationale has been effectively used by former smokers to kick the habit, it works!

Another great way to do this is to create a vision board, complete with images, as in pictures of loved ones you’d like to have the energy to spend more time with, or people who inspire you through their achievements that you know are not outside your realm of possibility too.

2. Then choose one habit that you know isn’t serving you.  Do you hit the drive-through every morning only to end up so hungry you’re wondering how you’ll possibly make it all the way until lunch?  Nosh on packaged snacks when you get home from work and regret all the empty calories later?  Instead of resolving to diet away the extra ten pounds, start with one simple behavior change directed toward achieving that goal.  Give yourself time to get comfortable with that change, whether it’s days, weeks or months until this becomes your new normal.  Now you’re ready to take another step, and repeat until your diet brings you all of the benefits excellent health has to offer.

3. State your personal credo, write it down and memorize it.  Sticking to a healthy routine that’s working feels great, but you still need to prepare for the unexpected.  The homemade cheesecake muffins your well-meaning co-worker shares with the group, the Philly Cheesesteak your partner wants to share, the small vs. jumbo-sized anything.  If these offers cross your path, decide in advance on your default, then remember your credo when temptation strikes.  The treat will be gone in a moment, but the self-empowerment of establishing new resolve keeps on growing, long after the dazzle has fizzled and the New Year has passed.

So now you’ve made a mindful decision to prioritize health and wellness this year.  You know your motives, you’re prepared with healthy alternatives and you know your credo.   The question then becomes, in times of stress or temptation, how do we stay aligned with our best intentions?

4. Avoid your triggers, and pack alternatives  If you know you’re tremendously tempted by your mom’s homemade lasagna, with it layers of cheese and rich, meaty sauce, instead of hoping you’ll have the willpower to resist, which after a glass of wine and a little convincing, you won’t, plan ahead.  Eat some raw veggies or fruit and drink a big glass of water before you’re in any situation where you’re inclined to be hungry and lots of food you know you’ll regret later is imminent.   Decide in advance how much you’ll try, and stick to it.  Have a ¼ piece of lasagna and fill the rest of your plate with veggies.   Don’t break the code:  once you start snacking on empty carbs it’s much harder to stop, so make your snacks healthy, even if you have to bring them yourself.  The key again is to plan ahead.

5. Make your health a top priority!  You may have noticed that sometimes your willpower seems stronger than others.  Ever wonder why when you’re calm and well-rested, you seem less inclined to succumb to temptation?  One reason is pure physiology.  It takes energy to exercise willpower, and if we’re out of fuel, we’ll have less of it. If it’s way past lunchtime, you’re beyond hungry and the only opportunity to appease that need is the big Mickey D’s, you may stop, and once you’re there at that drive though and your willpower is weak, all bets are off.  So avoid these pitfalls!

  • Get enough rest (a huge factor in harnessing willpower)
  • Exercise even a little bit every day, even 15 minutes of brisk walking counts!
  • Prepare ahead to avoid the pitfalls

Yes this takes intention and even a bit of time, but you already have the tools you need to succeed, including the willpower.  When you prioritize your health, you’ll bring your best self to the table, making smart choices easier and happy outcomes more likely every time.

DIY Ideas for Meaningful Holiday Giving

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

DIY-Gift-Images-0192It’s that time of year again, when thoughts turn to loved ones, traditions, and as a matter of course, gift giving.  And if you happen to forget that last one, simply enter any store or open your mailbox and you’re in for a hasty reminder.  Having recently moved, I’m reminded of the importance of collecting discriminately; most of us don’t need more stuff.  Yet holiday gift giving is a special practice, especially when imparted with a creative, personal touch.   So this year I’m turning to tea for a fresh DIY gift idea, combining the best of both notions into a thoughtful gift, tailored especially for the recipient.

Those of you short on time will love this one.  It’s easy to infuse with intention, healing benefits or just plain decadence if that’s your goal.  (more…)

Ready to lose 8 pounds without even trying?

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Ready to lose 8 pounds without even trying?If you’re expecting a diet pill or calorie cutting plan, you may be disappointed.  The only investment you’ll need to make for this weight loss regimen is maybe a good pair of reading glasses.

A full 70% of food we eat is processed.  True that’s a high number, but since my favorite whole grain bread ranks on that list, I’m not throwing in the towel and neither should you.  The trick is to being to make more informed choices.  Luckily no special skills are required to recognize the good from the garbage.  I’m not suggesting you no longer enjoy your treats if you can’t live without them, just know that some treats are trickier than others.  The secret to which is which lies in the small print on the side of the package.

Women who regularly read ingredients labels weigh an average of eight pounds less than the rest of us.  I know those tiny numbers are confusing, but even when you don’t know what all of them mean, you know enough to weed out (more…)

A Smarter Start: Ignore the front cover, focus on the ingredients list!

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

the-ingredients-list

I was reading one of my favorite new books, Pandora’s Lunchbox, and getting a serious education on the synthetics contained in most breakfast cereals, when the author mentioned Kellogg’s Smart Start.  It sounds so healthy, and who wouldn’t want a smart start when the box looks so appealing?   Really, what’s not to like?  To find out, I turned to my old friend, Wikipedia, which very conveniently lists ingredients for many common packaged foods.  In fact, if you hate the idea of standing in the grocery store aisle trying to make out the fine print, try Wiki first and save yourself some shopping time later.

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Ten Healthy Lunch and Snack Ideas for Kids (and grown-ups)

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

healthy-snacks-for-kidsIt’s the bane of parents of school-aged children everywhere. Ask any mom her biggest challenges with raising school aged children, and somewhere among them, almost cringingly whispered, come those two dreaded words: making lunch.  The daily grind of making sure you have enough variety in stock is challenging.

It’s hard to find healthy foods your kids will eat. Yet with popular faves like Turkey + Cheddar Lunchables packing in at least half a days’ worth of saturated fat, most ready-made snacks are no good solution.

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Four Beauty Foods to the Rescue!

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Beets&cabbageIf you’re familiar with celebrity nutritionist Kimberly Snyder, you may have seen her recent segment with Dr. Oz on the four foods that combat signs of aging, the same ones I have and Kimberly obviously does not.  Crow’s feet are one example.  I was happy mine could be Photo-shopped off the picture we used for Beanalicious Living, but that still leaves the real life wrinkles to deal with.  For this problem and others, here are four beauty foods to the rescue, starting with watercress.

I like the idea of replacing pricey eye cream with nourishing beauty food.  Kimberly recommends using this zesty green as an alternative to lettuce in things like spring rolls, salads and wherever else you can fit it in.

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Top Ten Reasons to Eat Your Beans

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Did you know, thousands of new processed food products are introduced each year, with billions of industry dollars spent encouraging us to eat them?  The US is now the most overweight industrial nation in history.  Do they really think we need more food?

Newsflash industrial ag!  You’re heading in the wrong direction.  We don’t need more additives, chemicals or GMOs, it’s time we turned back to the basics, where natural nutrition and good taste meet.  In other words, back to the beans.

Beans are so nutritious that the latest dietary guidelines recommend we triple our current intake from 1 to 3 cups per week  If nutritional punch and sheer deliciousness don’t grab you, how about the biggest bang for your buck as another great reason to get those beans boiling?

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