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Personal Growth Archives | Elizabeth Borelli

Archive for the ‘Personal Growth’ Category

Living with Toxic People? Here Are 7 Ways to Cope

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Have you been homebound these past months with testy teenagers, a difficult spouse or a couple of cranky-in-laws? Instead of using coping strategies, these people wallow in negativity, blame you for their problems or snap at you when all you need is a hug.

With the combined stress of Covid and a holiday season spent in relative captivity, life is hard for a lot of people. The stress is enough to turn any one of us into an anxiety-fueled fighter pilot looking for a target.

In my case, my otherwise typical teenager has been understandably angry. She can’t see her friends, she can’t get her license, she can’t use the new roller skates she got for Christmas since all the rinks are closed. And that’s just the start to her list of well-founded grievances.

As a life coach and yoga teacher, I’ve given her every tool to mitigate stress I know. But at this point, I’m the last person she wants advice from, well maybe second to last. So any suggestion I make results in blame and accusation. In fact, any word I utter tends to get a similar reaction.

This lashing out is a response I’ve come to recognize as driven by chronic stress. Maybe you have a similar family member casting a shadow on every interaction with you. It feels hurtful and unfair. After all, aren’t we all dealing with some version of the same thing?!

The answer is, not really. In order to understand why stress levels among people in similar situations are so different, this article from National Center for Biotechnology Information will help:

A “stressor” is any stimulus or event that evokes a state of “stress” or “anxiety.” A stressor may be a physical or psychological threat to safety, status, or well-being; physical or psychological demands that exceed available resources; an unpredictable change in environment; or an inconsistency between expectations and outcomes.7,19,20 Whether the stressor is pain or non-pain related (eg, work overload, financial troubles, social embarrassment), the perception of uncontrollable or unpredictable environmental demands that exceed coping resources is likely to evoke a physiologic stress response, manifesting as a feeling of uneasiness or impending doom, rumination or worry, and avoidance of stress-provoking stimuli.1,2,7,20 

However, the perception of environmental stimuli as threatening or frightening varies by individual; therefore, the same fear-based stressor that evokes a stress response in one individual may be innocuous to another. Fear of the worst possible outcome (eg, unemployment, bankruptcy) activates this response.

The bottom line is, chronic stress and repeated surges of cortisol can result in cortisol dysfunction. No amount of talk therapy or reasoning can work until those cortisol levels are reduced enough let the anxiety settle down.

In a perfect world, I’d be able to convince my daughter to manage her stress level with a solid sleep routine, deep breathing practices and exercise. These are all proven interventions that are also free and not that hard to do.

In a world not so perfect, this a good time to focus on taking care of yourself. Prioritizing sleep, a daily stress reduction practice and regular exercise routine are not surprisingly top of list. Yet how can you protect yourself from the slew of emotions, often directed at you, which feel so toxic?

  1. Put on your mask first. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself with stress management practices like 20 minutes of deep breathing or meditation each morning, a good night’s sleep and regular exercise so you’re able to manage your response and walk a way when you need to.
  2. Don’t add fuel to the fire. If you’re feeling attacked or triggered, do a fast-acting breathing practice if it helps you to respond calmly. The key is to keep your voice neutral in pitch and speak at a normal pace even if the other person is screaming.
  3. Ask before you tell. Ask them what they need, and listen. Rather than tell them to calm down, or take a deep breath, recognize their state first. For example; “I hear you’re upset, but can you slow down and tell me how I can help?” Sometimes people just need to be heard. If the conversation turns to blame or heightened emotions, request setting a time when they can speak to you respectfully and without accusations.
  4. Set boundaries. Leave the scene if you need to and let the other person know you’ll be back when they can connect from a place of calm. Until then, keep conversations as neutral as possible.
  5. Let go of resentment. If the person is in a state of chronic anxiety, their behavior isn’t entirely within their control, so as hard as it is, tap into empathy and answer with love. If this is different from your typical response pattern with this person, let them know you need to take care of yourself and your own stress levels during this time. It’s hard for all of us!
  6. Forgive yourself. You may feel responsible for your teen’s depression or your spouses financial stress. If only you’d parented differently or saved more money. This may feel like taking responsibility for your actions, the mature thing to do. But holding on to blame creates shame, or anger directed inward. This triggered state limits your ability to think creatively and to objectively assess your options by activating your stress response. Tara Brach’s work on self compassion is a great resource.
  7. Find support in connection. Even in social isolation we can use the phone or Zoom to connect with friends who will listen and understand. If you’re able to get out for a socially distant walk with a friend even better.

2020 has been a long hard year to say the least. The most important thing any of us can do right now is show compassion, both to ourselves and to others. As studies show, our bodies handle stress in different ways, and for some the go-to is toxicity.

As mercilessly as these challenges can stretch us, learning to deal with difficult people will always serve you. It all starts with self-care. Make 2021 your year for change.  Talk with me today to learn more about my new midlife transformation coaching programs and how to change your life at any age!

Physiological Sighs

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

How many times have you heard this advice? How many times was is helpful? The answer depends on how you were breathing.

When we’re feeling stressed, our body’s autonomic nervous system responds by preparing us for adversity. This is the fight, flight, freeze response you may be familiar with. Before you’re aware of what’s happening, your heartrate has accelerated, and your breath has quickened to deliver more oxygen to your blood.

Alternatively, when an unexpected has triggered the freeze response, you might hold your breath or restrict breathing.

So depending on whether you’re revved up in anxiety or frozen in fear, taking a deep breath may either make you feel more anxious, as in the sped up response, or calmer if you were holding or restricting your breath.

Fortunately, we can control our breathing to manage our autonomic response. When you’re anxious, the physiological breathing technique is the fastest way to calm.

Introduced into the mainstream by Stanford researcher Andrew Huberman, this super simple breathing method has been called the fastest path to stress reduction. Especially helpful because you can do it anywhere!

This practice works to reduce stress by decreasing the CO2 levels in the lungs, bringing the autonomic nervous system (ANS) into balance and downregulating your emotional state.

  • Calms the mind
  • Oxygenates the body
  • Brings your nervous system into balance
  • Creates equilibrium between alertness and relaxation

The Practice

  • Sitting or standing, begin by exhaling fully
  • Eyes open or gently closed, take 2 full inhales through the nose followed by an extended exhale through the mouth, breathing all the air out.
  • Complete 2-3 rounds
  • At the end, drop your hand down, take a big breath in through both nostrils, hold in a few seconds and sigh it out. This is a great time to do a short meditation if you want to make this part of your daily routine.

The Breath

  • Breathe fully into your belly, extending it to create space as the diaphragm lowers, then continue breathing upward into your chest, which begins to expand as your belly moves slightly inward.
  • For each breathing cycle, be sure to take a full breath in and to exhale completely; bringing the maximum volume of oxygen into the lungs.
  • With practice, extend the length of the breath, making the inhalations and exhalations full gentle, slow, and extended.

Notes

The neural circuits that control the heart work a little more slowly than those which control the lungs, so the heart rate will take about 40 seconds to come down.

If you find it hard to breathe through the nose due to congested sinuses, you can keep your teeth clenched, open your lips and breathe in through the mouth, followed by a normal exhale.

Alternate Nostril Breathing – Nadi Shodhana

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

One of my daily, go-to breathing practices both for starting my morning and for calming in the face of stress. Breathing in a calm, rhythmic pattern through one nostril at a time brings your autonomic nervous system (ANS) into balance and downregulates your emotional state. In less than 5 minutes a day, this simple practice:

  • Calms the mind
  • Oxygenates the body
  • Brings your nervous system into balance
  • Creates equilibrium between alertness and relaxation

The Practice

  • Find your comfortable seat, spine straight but not stiff so you’re alert yet relaxed.
  • Gently close your eyes.
  • Exhale fully through both nostrils.
  • Use your thumb to close your right nostril, and your ring finger & pinky finger work as a team to close the left.
  • Inhale slowly and gently in the left nostril for a full inhale.
  • After a full inhalation, close the right nostril with thumb and exhale slowly and gently out of your left nostril.
  • This completes one round: inhale left nostril, exhale right, inhale right, exhale left.
  • Practice 5 to 12 rounds as needed, or for 5-10 minutes as part of your morning practice.
  • At the end, drop your hand down, take a big breath in through both nostrils, hold in a few seconds and sigh it out. This is a great time to do a short meditation if you want to make this part of your daily routine.

The Breath

  • Begin by breathing fully into your belly, which extends to create space as the diaphragm lowers. Then continue breathing into your chest, which begins to expand as your belly moves slightly inward.
  • For each breathing cycle, be sure to take a full breath in and to exhale completely; bringing the maximum volume of oxygen into the lungs.
  • With practice, extend the length of the breath, making the inhalations and exhalations full gentle, slow, and extended.

Notes

  • Tradition methods suggest using the right hand even if you are left-handed, but either is okay.
  • Practice begins and ends with the left nostril.
  • While doing the practice, keep your elbow slightly out to the side to give yourself plenty of space.
  • If either nostril is clogged, you can relieve blockage by lying down on the opposite side.
  • If you find it hard to breathe through the nose due to congested sinuses, you can keep your teeth clenched, open your lips and breathe in through the mouth, followed by a normal exhale.

Breath to the Rescue, a 3-part strategy for finding calm in the midst of crisis

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Several months ago, I wrote an article highlighting the morning meditation practice I’d established with my teenage daughter. It was a healthy way to reconnect and find calm amid uncertainty, as I shared in my post. 

New here we are just a few months later, my daughter’s half of the meditation practice long abandoned, and mom feeling silly for spreading fake news. Because as we all know, these days nothing is set in stone. Now as I look back, it’s also a good reminder that in these shaky times, the boat can flip at any moment. 

My latest boat flip was a doozy. It was a classic mother daughter clash ending with both of us in tears. Heavy sigh, followed by a long talk and big hugs. Back to square one.

Fortunately, as luck would have it, this was also the weekend I began my yoga teacher training. My enrollment was a last-minute decision based more on opportunity than career goals, but I took it. 

I embarked on the first of 8 weekend sessions beginning on Friday morning at 6:30 am and ending on Sunday evening at 5pm. I love yoga and have signed up for enough similarly scheduled weekend retreats to know what to expect.

But this time, instead of concentrating on yoga poses, we focused on what I came to know as the most powerful practice of all. The breath.

The schedule allocated 25 hours from Friday morning through Sunday evening for breathing practices. 

Find your seat

As someone who hates sitting still for too long, in the beginning I felt some serious resistance. “Do I really want to do this” I asked myself more and more frequently as the expectation became clearer. No poses, lots of sitting and breathing. How would I make it through?

Finally, I committed to staying with it, even when it felt hard, and do what I could, no promises, no pressure. I created a space where I could sit comfortably, in private, uninterrupted by my phone (this is key!)  To my surprise as the weekend progressed, I became increasingly committed. With the world on fire around me, I found a space to quiet my mind.

Quiet your mind

A quiet mind creates space to focus our awareness on the present. Away from whatever I wish was or wasn’t happening, which I couldn’t control. Thoughts that only makes me anxious.

According to happiness expert Dr. Christine Carter. The opposite of uncertainty is not certainty; it’s presence. Instead of imagining a scary and unknown future, we can bring our attention to our breath. From there, we can check in with ourselves.

Who knew this most accessible of practices could be so transforming? 

Maybe this sound woowoo to you – I could have just as easily checked out to Grey’s Anatomy reruns and made it through the smokey weekend entertained and equally unscathed. But here’s the difference. 

After the training session ended, when I woke up to another day of smoke choking out sunshine, I saw the option to make a choice. I could either get discouraged and shut down, or I could, despite the sucky circumstances, show up for myself. 

Breathe into calm

I chose to show up. Starting with breath work and meditation. And from there I kept going. I made a commitment to myself that I would practice every single day, even if I only have 10 minutes, even if I don’t feel like it. No matter how imperfectly, I would continue to show up.  

It’s hard to quantify the benefits this practice delivers. It gives me the focus and energy to stay on my game through numerous coaching calls and meetings, manage the kids and their friends and the dog and make dinner and do all the things we need to do to stay sane right now, because I set my course for the day with 20 minutes first thing in the morning.

It’s no instant fix, you won’t see results overnight. Instead it’s an investment. Training your brain to stay calm in the midst of uncertainty, including potentially threatening circumstances is like weight training.  Over time your capacity gets stronger. And a calm mind always outperforms an anxious one. 

There is so much turmoil in our world right now it’s almost impossible to avoid the ups and downs. But when stress and anxiety are high, deep breathing and meditation invite you to focus on the present moment. Learning to use the breath to regulate your emotions is a coping skill you can tap into whenever you need to find clarity in the face of uncertainty, one deep breath at a time. 

Are you ready to explore your options for changing your life for the better?  Contact me to schedule a free 20-minute breakthrough session today! 

How to Tap into the Simple Joy of Tea

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

A daily loose-leaf tea habit keeps you healthy-hydrated with loads of wellness benefits: tea contains antioxidants, has been shown to strengthen your immune system, may help with weight loss, and soothes the digestive system. 

A cup of tea is associated with ceremony, positive energy and relaxation.  It’s inexpensive and delicious, a low calorie treat to enjoy hot or iced.  So why don’t more of us drink it? 

Years’ worth of conversations over 100’s of chai samples shared with passers-by wherever Tonic & Bloom was vending taught me a lot about the way most people think of tea.  People love the taste of it, they love the idea of it, but they haven’t made it a habit because they find the brewing process…cumbersome.

Sharing samples of anything during a pandemic is clearly off the table, but something else has changed relative to those bygone sampling days as well.  As a nation, we’ve been forced to slow down.  It’s hard to point out the positive without sounded naïve, there is no dismissing the harsh reality.  Yet where we can we, in spite of the chaos, create some space for new beginnings?

One of the most effective ways of changing unhelpful thought and belief patterns is through a daily mindfulness practice.

The simple act of making a cup of tea presents the perfect opportunity to create a mindful moment.  It’s a multi-sensory experience that requires a small amount of effort to prepare; the perfect opportunity to create a ritual, or reflective routine to embark on your day.  

People have harnessed the power of ritual, or reflective routine, to add meaning and intention to their lives since ancient times.

Ritual, or reflective routine, requires you to pay attention to the present moment.  It’s a time to listen to your inner voice, to reconnect with your values.  From there you can start the day from a place of intention, less likely to be swept away by worries and distractions. 

Study after study shows the benefit of incorporating mindful practices into your daily routine.  This time of forced slow down is also an opportunity to let go of negative thought patterns and reconnect with your inner voice.

If you’re a tea lover, or even liker, a morning tea ritual lets you tap into the simple joy of tea and set the course for your day with meaning and purpose.    

TAP INTO THE JOY OF TEA, A MORNING MEDITATION

  • Create your space

This could be any space, but dedicating it to the experience is essential.  Find a space that’s private and at least temporarily free from distractions.  Clear any clutter, turn off your phone.  If you enjoy background music, include it!  If you like to journal, be sure to have a notebook and pen handy to write down your reflections, gratitude list or an intention for your day. 

  • Find your Focus 

Remember, everything should be done with attention and intention.  Decide to focus on the present throughout your tea drinking meditation, clearing your mind, focusing on your breath and returning to the present whenever a distracting thought or worry seeps through.

Pay attention to your breath.  Practice diaphragmatic breathing; very deep breathing during which the belly expands as opposed to the chest.  Breathe through your nose if possible, in long counts of 5.

  • Brew your Tea

Choose high quality loose leaf tea that you enjoy drinking and cold, filtered water, if available.   

Find a mug that has meaning for you.  Boil your water on the stove or in a tea kettle.  Add 1/2-1 tablespoon of tea into an infuser or tea filter; place in your mug and add boiling water.  Let steep for 2-3 minutes per cup.  Add a touch of stevia or honey if you like a sweeter brew, and plant or dairy milk to taste if you prefer a latte.

Don’t rush the process. When you find yourself getting impatient while waiting for the boiling or brewing, return to the present and focus on your breath, the aroma of the tea, the quiet calming space.

  • Set your intention. 

This is your time – instead of rolling your eyes because your tea is still too hot to drink, use this time to set your intention.  Is there something you need to let go of?  A story you’re telling yourself that’s no longer serving you?  Is there something you need to step in to?  A new identity you’re hesitant to claim?

Decide, set your mind, make a commitment to harness this day to get one step closer to the outcome you’re seeking. 

  • Drink your tea. 

Finally, right?  The moment you’ve been waiting for, so savor it.  How many subtle scents and tastes can you notice? The tea has a lot to offer. Steep in this awareness and let the pleasure of the moment both fill you and ground you at the same time. 

  • Appreciate the journey

Consciously recognize your part and the external pieces at play to creating this simple time of joy and connection, which would not be possible without EACH of the other steps you took.  

If you have a journal handy, you may want to write down what you’re grateful for.  Like my teacher Kelly Blaser always says, “Gratitude to the self for the willingness”.  You may want to capture any reflections that come up, or write down your intention for your day.

When you’re ready to complete your meditation, return to your breath and ground yourself in this moment. Use this experience as a touchstone to embark on the rest of your day with joy, intention and purpose.

Learn more about the benefits of high quality, hand-crafted tea at www.tonicandbloom.com!

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.  So it’s barely surprising that this time meant for focus on family, appreciation and sharing tends to turn into a combination stressfest spending spree.

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!

Byron Katie on Making your Goals a Reality

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

When it comes to things like health, happiness and productivity, we tend to habitually undermine our efforts without even realizing it!

Ask any busy person why they aren’t living their best life; exercising as much as they’d like to, staying in touch with friends, or getting enough sleep and you’ll get the same answer; “I don’t have time”.

We make that declaration without even cross-examining it.

Enter bestselling author and thought leader Byron Katie, who recently addressed a crowd of thousands in San Francisco at Wisdom2.0. Katie’s process, which I first encountered 5 years earlier, is as rock-solid logical as I remember.  It’s amazing to watch a change agent insightful enough to turn disempowering reasoning on its head with one simple sentence; “is that true”?

Plot spoiler; it almost never is.  Katie excels at talking volunteer audience members through what they perceive as their fixed reality, and opens their eyes to new options.  This simple technique is so highly effective I invite you to look at your own “I don’t have time” reality, and see if you can find some room to reprioritize your well-being.

And if you’re still convinced you simply can’t splurge on self-care, you’ll be relieved to know that daily health habits like good nutrition, adequate rest, exercise and meditation actually boost productivity, so don’t worry, you’ll make up for it.

Fortunately basic self-care habits don’t need to be time-consuming. Have you been putting off committing to a regular exercise practice because you don’t have the 90 minutes in your day to devote to a spin class?  Or waiting until your calendar is clear of pending social engagements to being a healthy eating plan?  Is it because you don’t have time?

If the answer is anything other than no, consider the words of Byron Katie, is that true?

Here are 3 simple ways to begin making your goals a reality, starting today!

  1. Think Big, Start Small. Your 5-year vision may place you in a stimulating work environment, a great relationship, a size 5 jean or a regular workout routine, but no matter how big the goal, your first step needs to be a small one.

For example, start with:

  • 10 extra minutes per day of work-related reading
  • Schedule a regular weekly date night
  • One push up per day (there’s an entire book based upon this one)
  • Swapping sugar-sweetened beverage for stevia-sweetened tea

The idea is to choose one simple, sustainable step toward developing a new habit and then integrate it into your sub-conscious routine.  This could take weeks or months, it’s different for everyone, but once it’s ingrained, that’s when you just do it – no willpower required.

From there, you can layer another small step as you move closer to your long-term vision.  And each step, as in any change of motion, becomes successfully easier.  You can do this!

  1. Pre commit, which means set yourself up for success by streamlining your environment for a win. One major barrier to getting started is the procrastination trap.  Your subconscious mind will find any excuse to avoid taking that first step to new habit formation, so remove any obstacles to success or anything that might test your willpower and just get started.

Here are some tips you can use to overcome the motivation trap and set yourself up for success:

  • Schedule your new habit in advance
  • If payment is involved, pay in advance
  • Enlist a reliable friend to join you
  • Join a group
  • Remove or hide any temptations or diversions
  • Keep the choices you want to make the most accessible
  1. Set yourself up for success. Another big barrier to new habit development is keeping your goal top of mind.  Unless we use cues in our everyday environment to remind us, chances are we’ll forget about our goal so often that eventually we just give up altogether.  One effective strategy is to create cues that work for you.

For example, say your regular routine when you come home from work is to drop your keys on the counter and head for the fridge.  Place a cue, like a reminder note in the entryway, put your workout duds near the door, and turn that snack break into a 15 minute walk around the block before you have time to talk yourself of it.

Here are some simple reminder suggestions to keep you on track:

  • Plan ahead the night before
  • Use your cell phone or mobile device to remind you to remember your new habit
  • Post notes in places where you can’t miss seeing them
  • Keep your gear or accessories highly accessible

Change takes commitment, and yes work too; but if you’re not working toward your goals, you’re working against them, so take the time and make the commitment to prioritize you, starting today!

More on Byron Katie and the work at http://thework.com/en.

More on Elizabeth Borelli, and returning to work after a career break:  www.NextCareerCoaching.com

Insomnia SOS, An 8 Step Action Plan

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Several summers ago just after turning 50, I hit bout of insomnia that can only be explained by a combination of heat and hormones. After 5 torturous nights I began to see sleep-deprivation for the sanity-testing problem it can become.

Before this my sleep plan was simple; keep a regular schedule, no caffeine after noon, unplug at least an hour before bed. 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.

Suddenly smug no more, I found myself reduced 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, 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 featuring 8 proven practices for falling and staying asleep:

1. Dim your lights an hour before bed time to start winding down, but not so dim you can’t read. 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. Then try these simple breathing exercises to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

5. If that’s not working, try getting out of bed and repeating 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. Light therapy It turns out that just by looking into the morning sunlight (or in Oregon, the morning cloud cover) within an hour of waking up triggers the production of the stress hormone cortisol. If you’re able to get out for a morning walk for 30-45 minutes, you’re capitalizing on two sleep practices; light therapy and exercise.  If you’re stuck indoors much of the time, letting the sunlight in or using a light therapy lamp during the day also helps.

These strategies helped me tremendously, as did the following tip:

7. Take a hot shower or bath right before bed.  Health News Research suggests a warm bath or shower an hour or two before bedtime can help you unwind and fall asleep faster. Why? It will help lower your core temperature, and that’s a circadian sleep signal.

I also 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:

8. 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.”

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 morning light exposure, light therapy, 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.

This medically reviewed article provides more information on light therapy. Highly recommended!

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.

Diet Trends, How to Separate Help from Hype

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Today I received a new book I ordered online, The Bulletproof Diet: Lose up to a Pound a Day, Reclaim Energy and Focus, Upgrade Your Life. Sounds amazing right? While I don’t need to lose a pound a day right now, I do try to keep up on new diet trends. Since this book has some great reviews, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on some helpful new tips and information to share with my audience.

So as soon as the book arrived I immediately tore it open and began skimming through. Pretty quickly I discovered this author’s views were extreme (a bad sign in my book) and differed extensively not only from my own, but more importantly, from the many experts whose researched-based work I closely align with.

This initial scan landed me on a page listing the only fruits the author considered healthy as berries and pineapple, both unavailable to most people throughout most of the year except from the freezer, which first caused me to take pause. Frozen fruit is actually much higher in sugar than fresh, and often ends up used in smoothies, which unless tempered with the right ingredients are essentially sugar bombs. But I moved on.  Then I hit the part where he suggests that all rice is bad except for white rice I and I stopped and raised an eyebrow, maybe both.

‘Just who is the author of this revolutionary new dieting advice?’ It belatedly occurred to me to wonder. Turns out he’s a Silicon Valley millionaire who lost a substantial amount of weight using these tactics, and who also spent some time in the Himalayas, which was listed in his bio apparently to convey further credibility. Now he’s designed his own line of supplements and special coffee that he claims will do all of the things he promotes in the title of the book, you just have to buy the products.

And herein lies the problem with diet trends. Many of them were started by people just like this author, who combine a tantalizing promise with the means to fund a large outreach and suddenly we’re all gluten-free, even though we may not be sure why. After all, anyone can all themselves an expert, including yours truly! This is why you need to know how to separate diet hype from help before you waste time or money on trendy gimmicks.

Diet fads make it seem as though good nutrition and healthy weight management are a mystery waiting to be solved, and they’ve uncovered the magic key; avoid gluten! While highly credentialed nutrition experts like Marion Nestle, Dr. Walter Willet and the 25 US News and World Reports Best Diet Rankings experts base all of their recommendations on years of sound scientific research instead of their personal experience or intuition, this information isn’t considered trendy or sexy.  So while their findings are always accessible, you have to look for them as opposed to the other way around.

Essentially, crazy restrictive, single nutrient-demonizing or other extreme dietary measures seldom work long-term. But that doesn’t mean you have to count every calorie and follow some denial-based regime to get your eating habits under control. In essence, changing eating behaviors takes a combination of physical, psychological and environmental measures into account in order to be successful long-term. None of this is a mystery, although no one diet works for everyone.

The point is there is no magic weight loss bullet, and when diets become so trendy that there are publications, specialty food products and entire aisles of the grocery store devoted to them, take note. These trends have become a multi-billion dollar business that vendors will keep promoting, because that’s what they’re in business to do.  And as long as they keep drowning out the (fact-based) naysayers, they’ll continue to get the attention and sale they’re after, regardless of how well the programs work.

In fact, I’ve seen highly credentialed experts dismiss the Paleo diet in blog posts that were then so engulfed flames by angry readers they quickly removed the article. Some of these trend-followers are downright rabid, but it’s important to remember that shouting the loudest doesn’t make someone right.

When you consider a new trend like Paleo, gluten-free or low fat, do your independent  using independent expert theory checked against findings by institutions like Harvard Institute of Public Health, Yale’s Rudd Center or Cornell Division of Nutritional Sciences, it’s important to consider your source.  While you’ll find products and promotions for diet trends everywhere, including your favorite health stores and workout studios,  they’re simply responding to customer demand, which keeps them in business.  Conversely none of the independent health and nutrition institutions advocate any of the aforementioned trends. In fact the US News Best Diet Rankings listed Paleo as one of the least effective regimes all-around for the 2nd year in a row (when it’s been trendy enough to make the list).

The bottom line is, in this day of self-pronounced experts, you need to weigh credentials and do your diligence to separate the diet trend help from the hype. It may take a little extra time, but considering you’ll save money and possibly health problems in the long term, it’s well worth it.

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!

Strategies for Healthy Eating When Organic Isn’t an Option

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Pesticides in produceFast fact:  nearly one half of people polled in a 2012 survey believe it’s easier to do their taxes than it is to eat healthfully.  I’m guessing there are some stellar accountants comprising the other half, because on this processed food planet, healthy eating really can be intimidating.

Truthfully, after scrutinizing enough health news to warrant a certificate in Plant Based Nutrition to keep it all straight, I’m still slightly confused by tofu.  In our information-overloaded society, the last thing we need is more nutrition nuance to sort through.

The good news is when it comes to healthy eating, you don’t need to stress over every detail.  While a perfect diet is a noteworthy goal, the mere concept is so out of reach for many of us (hello parents!), it’s tempting to tune out entirely.  But please don’t, because whether its availability, time or budget you’re challenged by, you really can keep your food rules simple and still stay healthy.  Your version may look different than organic, home-made perfection, and that’s perfectly okay.

Recently I found myself facing this very dilemma. I count myself lucky to live in Northern California, a health food nirvana by most standards.  Local, organic food prices are only slightly higher than conventional, and we’re never far from a health food store.

When I visit my parents in small town Rhode Island each year however, the reality is very different.  Organic food prices there are double or triple the cost of conventional, and they’re not necessarily even local.  Much as I wanted to, I found I just couldn’t pay up for organic when it was overpriced and over-packaged.  So inspired by the challenge, I left the organic section and scoured the grocery store for my go-to travel foods; beans, grains and the makings for fresh cabbage slaw.

As I’ve learned from my years of rural summer vacations, when organic isn’t an option, healthy eating simply requires a little extra creativity.  So don’t let a lack of access to organic or even locally grown foods stop you from enjoying a delicious, healthy diet.

Here are a few simple strategies for healthy eating when organic isn’t an option:

Know which foods don’t need to be organic:  Two-thirds of produce samples in recent government tests had pesticide residues, so it’s important to know what you’re eating.  In independent consumer group EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce lists the cleanest and dirtiest conventionally-raised fruits and vegetables to help you make informed choices, including avoiding over-paying for organic if you don’t have to.

Buy local and eat in season.  This may be a given, but also a good reminder that the more recently harvested the food, the tastier and more nutritious it is.  Visit farm stands and markets, or frequent grocers that carry local goods.  You may pay a bit more than you would for mass-produced monoculture foods, but for flavor and nutritional value, it’s worth it.

Go for Frozen.  When fresh organic fruits and vegetables are too expensive or unavailable, frozen makes a great option.  Conventional berries, especially strawberries, retain high amounts of toxic pesticides.  Frozen organic berries are loaded with antioxidants and wonderful in smoothies, oatmeal or baked goods.  Frozen organic corn is wonderful added to rice dishes and steamed green beans are a great alternative out of season.

Read the label!  Polls show that most people find it easier to do their taxes than to read nutrition labels!  Yet at the same time, studies show that women who read labels on a regular basis weigh an average of 15 pounds less than people who don’t.

Bottom line; although the print is tiny and it’s annoying to take the time to try to decipher it, you’ll probably be surprised by what you’ll find, even on products that say “healthy” or “natural”.  And you only need to do it once to know whether that product belongs in your kitchen.

Be on the lookout for high levels of sugar, more calories than you expected or chemical preservatives you’re better off avoiding.  The important thing is to weed out the bad stuff; high fructose corn syrup, transfats, food dyes, unpronounceable ingredients.

You don’t have to know what all of the numbers mean, just checking the ingredients, sugar level and calories counts should tell you all you need to know.

Can’t find Grass Fed?  Go for plant based proteins.  Most animal products sold in the US contain growth hormones, which are administered to animals to cause them to grow faster or produce more milk.  This practice frequently causes them to get sick more often and need antibiotics.

These hormones and antibiotics are passed onto us through the meat and dairy products we consume, and the results of these fairly recently introduced practices are still largely unknown.

Fortunately we have plenty of options to hormone and antibiotic-laden meats.  Beans and lentils are an excellent source of protein, with added fiber and no saturated fat.  They also contain key nutrients like zinc and iron in a nutritional profile similar to seafood and poultry.  But that’s not all, beans are an excellent sources of dietary fiber and other key nutrients such as potassium and folate, so in that way they rank among vegetables.

But the best news is, beans are simple to make, incredibly versatile and very delicious.  So start whether you jump right into bean-based cooking using the Bean Cooking Chart and Guidelines below,  or begin with programs like Meat Free Monday and work your way up to the four servings recommended per week from there.  However you decide to do it,  start today!  Your body will thank you for it!!

Cooking dried beans from scratch is easy! Refer to the handy chart below for cooking and soaking times for your favorite beans and legumes:  Click here for a handy Bean Cooking Chart

Sprout it! Sprouts abound with antioxidants; they’re full of protein, chlorophyll, vitamins, minerals and amino acids. And talk about good for you:  ounce for ounce they provide more nutrients than any other whole food known.  Sprouts also contain beneficial enzymes, requiring less digestive energy so they actually invigorate you while your body processes them.

Your home grown sprouts are up to the minute fresh (they grow until ready to eat) and delicious.  Grow them right in your kitchen using just seeds, jars and screens, here’s how!

Avoid processed meats  More than just the nitrates used to preserve them,”Multiple studies have found a relationship between processed meat intake and increased risk of colorectal cancer,” says Amanda Cross, an investigator at the National Institute of Health. One possible explanation: “In addition to nitrate and nitrite, it is possible that there are other components of processed meats that are responsible for the associations observed with colorectal cancer.”

What can you do?  Opt for a non-meat alternative.  Avocado, grilled eggplant or baked Portobello mushrooms make wonderful sandwich fillings.  Otherwise look for meats labeled “preservative or nitrate-free” and avoid cooking nitrate-dense foods like bacon at high heat, which can cause form carcinogenic nitrosamines to form.

In short, enjoy the season’s abundance! When you rely upon fresh, whole foods and avoid those too heavily sprayed or chemically enhanced, you can’t go wrong.

5 Overlooked Reasons to Eat Plant-Strong

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine predicts today’s kids to be the first generation to experience a shorter life expectancy if the rising obesity rates don’t begin to reverse.  Scary stuff to be sure.  Yet while growing diet-related disease rate is the most obvious result of a standard American diet, it isn’t the only issue at stake.

There are so many smart reasons to improve your eating habits beyond just the amazing personal health benefits.  Issues involving water conservation,  greenhouse gas emissions, and even the national economy are becoming more prominent as new societal challenges emerge.  All of these issues connect back to the food on your plate.

So why not start making changes that make sense not just for your health, but for everyone on the planet?

Here are 5 great reasons to go meatless:

  1. Conserve water!   The amount of water required in beef production drastically outweighs all other foods.1-NyAoyj4flmnD1WRwm
  2. Fight global warming!  18% of all global human-induced greenhouse gas emissions come from animal product production.
  3. Reduce your risk of some major diseases.  Meat and meat products are linked to a variety of health problems. And, according to the American Dietetic Association, “a vegetarian diet may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”4
  4.  Fight pollution!  Factory farm animal waste and runoff (water contamination from the thousands of pounds of manure produced each day are a major source of air and water pollution.  Just drive along some highways in California and you’ll encounter miles and miles of firsthand experience of the air pollution part.
  5. Get healthy!  A 2010 American Society for Nutrition report shows that 96% of us are fiber-deficient, eating too few legumes and whole grains while surpassing recommended daily allowances on meat and dairy products for optimal health.

So take a stand!  On Monday, April 21st, join  me and 5,000 other Americans in taking the US VegWeek 7-Day VegPledge.  You’ll be in good company:  65+ federal, state, and local elected officials — including US Senator Cory Booker and 14 US Representatives — are taking the pledge too. Vegan athletes such as Olympian Seba Johnson and NFL player David Carter are also on board to keep you inspired.

Join the fun, after all, it’s just a week… – Click here to take the pledge!

Fiber Up to Skinny Down

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

And boost energy, digestion and satisfaction in the process

Whether the latest diet debate centers around gluten-free or Paleo, carbs are a hot topic these days.  The problem is, the discussions typically cluster all carbs into one category:  bad, and thus all grains are also labeled.  The reasoning goes like this: all carbs, and therefore all grains, are unhealthy, fattening and strictly to be avoided, to the point where some shoppers will shell out $10 a package for Paleo Wraps.    The fallout of this oversimplification  keeps a lot of us steering clear of a really important fiber and nutrient source.

Carbohydrates are the starchy and sugary parts of food that break down into glucose, the sugar your body needs for fuel, so they do have their uses. And combining glucose with lots of plant fiber is the best way to keep blood sugar levels steady and long-lasting.  So as you may have guessed, neither all carbs nor all grains are created equal.

So what does all this have to do with fiber?  Well for one thing, we need to be eating a lot more of it.  The general recommendation for adults is 25 grams per day.  We’re currently coming in at around half of that.  Whole grains, which are made up of complex carbohydrates, which are naturally low in calories and high in fiber.  Along with plenty of plant-based whole fruits and veggies, grains are an important part of a healthy diet.  The fiber contained in complex carbohydrates, gives us the feeling of fullness that keeps us from overeating in addition to all the health benefits it offers. And researchers have linked high fiber consumption with a lower risk of both cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Then there are the other carbs—the simple or refined carbohydrates contained in white bread, white rice, pasta, pastries, crackers, most juices, and breakfast cereals. These are grains that started out whole, but then had the fibrous coating removed, so your body barely has to work to digest them.  Refined carbs enter the blood stream in a surge, leading to a spike in insulin that leads to a kind of roller-coaster effect on blood sugar: way up, then way down. Insulin surges can create a cycle of hunger and overeating in the short term, and long-term are associated with weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and other health problems.  To your body, refined grains like white rice are treated essentially the same way as a teaspoon of sugar: quick to convert to glucose, then leave you feeling hungry all over again.

Whole grains—as oats, quinoa, bulgur, brown rice, and wheat berries, fall into the complex carbohydrate family, and have a more leveling effect on blood sugar and insulin than do foods like white rice or pasta. Since most women consume only about half the 25–35 grams of fiber most experts recommend, you may want to think about making the switch to whole grains, the more intact the better.   Look for bread that lists whole wheat, whole rye, or some other whole grain as the first ingredient. Or, even better, buy bread that’s made with only 100% whole grains, like 100% whole-wheat bread.

Brown rice is better than white, but why not experiment with some delicious new alternatives?  A dish that contains millet, wheat berries, hulled barley or bulgar can provide about 1/3 of your daily fiber requirement.    Whole grains are also high in protein and other important nutrients like phytochemicals.

The less widely used grains offer an entire new experience in flavor and texture.  From Minted Quinoa Tabouli, to Oven Baked Oats or Orange Fennel and Kamut Salad, you’ll discover whole new favorites to replace those refined wheat products and fiber you up right!

Nutrition Label Reading for Smarties

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Step into any grocery store and you’ll see lots of products with claims like “Multi-grain,” “Healthy,” “All-natural” or “Gluten Free.”  The trouble is, many of these so-called “health foods” contain some of the worst ingredients, including excess sugar, suspect chemicals and additives banned in many other countries.

If this is surprising, consider who ultimately decides whether or not a food can be labeled as healthy in the US.   Not the FDA, as most people believe, it’s the manufacturer!  So the bottom line is, you can’t take what you read on the front label at face value—ever!”  And despite what the title of this article indicates, studies show that 84% of American shoppers are confused about their nutrition choices.  In short, these things are challenging by design.

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, most of us must do) you don’t have to eat junk.  By making it hard to read and understand the information listed, 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 basic tips for healthier food selection:

  • For most of us, trying to avoid sugar is like avoiding sun exposure. We know we should, but it’s everywhere and it’s so much fun. But when on average we consume five times the daily recommended allowance of added sugars, limiting is a good idea. Avoid products containing sugar of any kind in the first five ingredients and you’re on the right track.  The recommended sugar intake for adult women is 5 teaspoons (20 grams) of sugar per    day, for adult men, it’s 9 teaspoons (36 grams) daily, and for children, it’s 3 teaspoons (12 grams) a day.                                                                                                                                      
  • Beware of the “natural flavoring” loophole.  Natural flavoring could be anything, and if it was anything healthy, it would be listed.
  • 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!
  • 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 more than 20% of total calories, or if it contains hydrogenated anything, it’s not a healthy choice.                                                                                                                                                                        
  • Most of us fall far short of daily fiber recommendations as the chart below indicates, so be sure you’re buying whole grains whenever possible. 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. Aim for 25-35 grams (g) of total fiber each day –or 6-8 grams per meal, and 3-4 grams per snack
  • Beware of serving sizes. Not all serving sizes are the same, nor do they necessarily make sense. That individually wrapped granola bar may proudly announce only 50 calories per serving, but you’d have to scrutinize the fine print to discover that’s really three servings there.
  • Avoid foods containing ingredients banned in other countries, even though they’re used regularly in the US in items from breakfast cereal to energy bars to Kraft Mac n Cheese. Food colorings like Blue #1, Blue #2, Yellow #5, Yellow #6 and Red #40, BHA, arsenic and more are found in the many of the vitamin fortified family foods we eat every day.   ABC News has a handy slide show with more details here.
  • 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.
  • Eat more whole, plant based foods to meet you daily nutrition requirements!

Check out this chart published by the USDA Dietary Guidelines to see how most of us measure up:

AmericanDiet_vs_TargetDiet-560x342

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!