Herbs & Lifestyle Strategies for Managing Stress

stress relief

Nearly everyone I know faces unprecedented demands on their time. We all have several roles we play, each with a different set of expectations, whether that’s at work, with our families, in our social lives, or elsewhere. It can be all too easy to over-commit, and when that happens, stress can quietly (or not so quietly) sneak up on us. However, keeping stress at bay is essential to be our most productive, creative selves and perform at our highest level.

As we navigate a world of ever-increasing demands, it’s essential to build a personal toolbox of strategies which support us in reliably managing stress. You may already have a toolbox without consciously knowing it. Test out the following ideas, see what works for you, and build a set of practices you can utilize anytime you feel stress creeping in.

herbs

Take Adaptogens

Adaptogens are a class of herbs which help the body adapt to stress and promote homeostasis, or stability, within the body. Some common examples include Ginseng (Panax ginseng), Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus),  Schizandra (Schisandra chinensis), and Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea). Adaptogens can be taken as a tincture, capsule, tea, or powder added to foods. Use the single herbs or take an adaptogen formula with several different herbs. Adaptogens are a key resource in your toolbox which can be used daily to keep your mind and body resilient.

 

exercise

Exercise

Incorporating movement into your day is crucial to keeping stress at bay. Exercise reduces stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, while also boosting endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. Whether you choose cardio or weight lifting or something else, find an activity you enjoy and create an exercise habit if you don’t already have one.

 

nature time

Spend Time in Nature

Studies have shown that wilderness-based stress management tools, such as time in nature and gardening are effective at reducing burnout and other stress-related symptoms. Whether it’s a walk in the park, a weekend backpacking trip, or an afternoon in the garden, make space for more time in nature.

 

time

Learn to Say No

Perhaps more important than any strategy to mitigate stress is learning to avoid it in the first place. A key tool to prevent stress is to steer clear of taking on too many commitments in the first place. Most of us like to say yes when something is asked of us, but learning to discern the important few from the trivial many is crucial for stress management. For more ideas, check out books like Essentialism, and The One Thing.

 

toolbox

Other Tools

A few other stress management strategies to consider include: social time with friends and family, journaling, meditation, taking a hot bath, dancing to music you love, cuddling a pet, making art, and doing something kind for another person.

Test different strategies, find what works for you, and build a toolbox to alleviate stress when it comes creeping in, as it inevitably will.

Simple Sauerkraut

New research is coming out daily about the impact of gut health on almost every aspect of human health, from immune function to mood and brain health. A PubMed search for “microbiome” (the term used to describe the collection of 100 trillion bacterial cells that inhabit our bodies) returns over 60,000 results!

Needless to say, our gut bacteria play an important role in our health. and keeping a healthy population and diversity of the right bugs is key to optimal performance in every area of your life.

One of the best ways to support a healthy microbiome is to include both prebiotic and probiotic foods in your diet. Prebiotics are the food that feed the good bacteria. Probiotics are the good bacteria themselves.

Put quite simply, foods high in fiber are good prebiotoics (think fruits and veggies). Examples of probiotic-containing foods include fermented and cultured foods such as kimchi, yogurt, kefir, miso, and the focus of today’s post: sauerkraut.

If you’ve never heard of the microbiome, including gut-healthy foods may feel intimidating to you. But, fear not!

It can be incredibly simple, tasty, and affordable.

While you can purchase your fermented foods at the grocery store, you can save money by making your own ferments at home. An easy place to start is with sauerkraut.

Below is a basic recipe from which you can create many variations!

Simple Sauerkraut

Ingredients

  • 1 large head green or red cabbage
  • 1/8 cup sea salt
  • Water

Directions

  1. Cut the cabbage in quarters, cut out the stem, slice finely, and place into medium bowl.
  2. Sprinkle the salt over the cabbage.
  3. Squeeze the cabbage with your hands until it begins to break down and ‘wilt’.
  4. The cabbage will eventually begin to release liquid. When this happens, pack the cabbage into a clean Mason jar. Push the cabbage down hard to remove most of the extra space.
  5. Pour remainder brine from the bowl into the cabbage jar.
  6. Be sure to submerge the cabbage below the liquid.
  7. If there is not enough liquid, add salt water until the cabbage is completely covered. To do this, mix 1 cup of water with 1 teaspoon sea salt.
  8. LOOSELY place the cap on the mason jar, but do not tighten it.
  9. Keep jar at room temperature, out of direct sunlight. (e.g. on a counter top).
  10. For the first few days, check on the cabbage and add extra liquid to keep the cabbage submerged. A bit of white foaminess is normal. However, be on the lookout for anything that looks or smells moldy.
  11. Taste the cabbage after 6-7 days. It should be tangy, but will probably still be quite crisp. Speed of fermentation depends on the ambient temperature  in your home.
  12. Ferment your kraut until taste and texture meet your preferences. I like to ferment mine about 10 days.  At this point, cap the jar and store in the refriegerator.
  13. Enjoy a dollop daily with meals!

For variations, I add different spices, such as caraway seeds or peppercorns. You can use this same method to create kimchi or ferment any other vegetable easily at home!

How to Use Herbs to Enhance Athletic Performance

trail

The days are growing longer and if you haven’t already started getting back outside and getting after it again, it’s time.

It’s easy to understand how what you eat and drink can impact your body’s performance, but did you know that you can optimize your active lifestyle with certain herbs as well?

Herbs can aid in reducing inflammation, improving stamina, and increasing speed of recovery, among other benefits. Include the following herbs in your daily routine to help your body perform better, whether your preferred style of movement is running, biking, backpacking, yoga, or a stroll in the park.

runner

Adaptogens are a class of herbs which promote homeostasis and increase a person’s resistance to stress. Some key adaptogens to consider for an active lifestyle include Rhodiola, Eleuthero, and Ashwagandha.

Rhodiola (Rhodiola Rosea)

In regards to athletic performance, Rhodiola has been shown to reduce both lactate levels and parameters of skeletal muscle damage after an exhaustive exercise session.

Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus)

Eleuthero, also called Siberian Ginseng, has long been used by athletes to improve endurance. This study showed that 8 weeks of supplementation (800 mg daily) “enhances endurance capacity, elevates cardiovascular functions and alters the metabolism for sparing glycogen”.

Ashwagandha (Ashwagandha Somnifera)

Ashwagandha is another herb that has been shown to improve aerobic capacity. Eight weeks of supplementation (500 mg twice daily) significantly improved VO2 max and time to exhaustion.

Turmeric (Curcuma Longa)

Turmeric is well-known for its anti-inflammatory effects. Studies indicate that the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin, the active component in turmeric, may offset some of the performance deficits associated with eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage.

Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis) & Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)

This 2014 study indicated that athletes supplementing with Cordyceps and Reishi mushrooms showed an increased capacity to quench free radicals, thereby protecting them from oxidative stress and over-training symptoms.

Maca (Lepidium meyenii)

In addition to its hormone-balancing effects, research suggests that Maca root, taken daily for as little as 14 days, has the ability to improve endurance in athletes.

stretching

In addition to considering these herbs to facilitate an active lifestyle, support a healthy, balanced body by including a mix of strength training, aerobic training, and stretching into your physical routine.

With a little planning, supplementing with high-quality herbs can enhance and optimize your active, healthy lifestyle!

Five Herbs for Liver Health & Detoxification Support

crocus spring detox

The crocuses and dandelions are popping out of the ground, and the days are getting longer. After a season spent mostly indoors, our bodies yearn for sunlight, movement, and fresh food. Spring is an ideal time to give your body a reboot by optimizing detoxification.

A great way to enhance your body’s natural detoxification system is to support the function of your liver. The liver filters blood coming from the digestive tract before sending it to the rest of the body. It detoxifies chemicals and metabolizes drugs. Among other metabolic processes, the liver produces bile, which breaks down fat into fatty acids to produce energy. Liver health is also essential for healthy hormones.

Align with the seasons and move into spring feeling fresh and energetic by including these 5 liver-supporting herbs into your day.

dandelion

Dandelion Root (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelions support the digestive system by maintaining a proper flow of bile. Dandelion root also has a natural diuretic effect, allowing the body to eliminate more toxins. Dandelion tea is a great substitute for coffee while cleansing the liver.

 

milk thistle

Milk Thistle Seed (Silybum marianum)

Milk Thistle contains a flavonoid called Silymarin, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Silymarin has been found to increase glutathione (an antioxidant necessary for detoxification), and it may also support the regeneration of liver cells.

 

yellow dock root
photo courtesy urbol.com

Yellow Dock Root (Rumex crispus)

Yellow Dock aids in detoxification by increasing bile production. It also supports elimination and removal of toxins by stimulating bowel movements and increasing frequency of urination.

 

turmeric root
photo courtesy specialtyproduce.com

Turmeric Root (Curcuma longa)

Besides the well known anti-inflammatory effects of turmeric, recent research has shown that curcumin, the primary polyphenol in turmeric, may have liver-protective and regenerative properties for damaged livers.

 

licorice root
photo courtesy magicalbutter.com

Licorice Root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

Recent studies indicate that Glycyrrhizic acid, a key active constituent in licorice root, has anti-inflammatory and immune regulatory actions. It also has antiviral effects, antitumor effects and has been shown to inhibit premature cell death of liver cells. As an adaptogenic herb, licorice can support the overall functioning of the body during detoxification.

Spring Detox Decoction

2 parts licorice root

2 part dandelion root

1 part ginger root

1 part cinnamon bark

When working with hard, woody parts of the plant, such as these liver-supporting roots, use a decoction to extract the active compounds. Use 1 cup water per tablespoon of herbs. Place herbs and cold water into a saucepan and bring to a simmer for 20-40 minutes. Cool and strain. Store in a sealed glass container in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours.

As we move into spring, consider consuming more water, getting outside for sun and movement, and giving your body a rest by cutting out gluten, dairy, sugar, alcohol, and caffeine for 30 days.

Matcha Energy Bites

matcha energy bites

What to do on a snowy Colorado day (after going out to play in the snow)?

Play in the kitchen, of course!

I was craving vibrant colors, so in addition to trays upon tray of roasted veggies (meal prep for the week), and starting a new batch of purple cabbage & fennel kraut (yay fermented foods!), I whipped up these matcha energy bites.

They’re a delicious snack to have on hand when you’re craving a little something sweet in the afternoons, and they’ll definitely treat you better than a handful of candy and a latte.  They’re also easily portable, so they’re great for taking on a long run, ride or hike.

The carbs are good for immediate energy and the healthy fat and protein will keep you going through your afternoon at the office or your day in the mountains. Note: Matcha is a type of green tea and does contain a small amount of caffeine, so if you’re highly sensitive, avoid these in the afternoon or evening.

These bites are vegan, gluten free, and grain free. They don’t require baking and they’re quick to whip up with nothing but a food processor. Plus, these portable little energy bundles contain just 6 real food ingredients!

Oh, I almost forgot! The benefits of Matcha? It’s packed with antioxidants to help fight inflammation, it’s loaded with EGCg (a compound with cancer-fighting properties), it contains L-theanine (which enhances calm and increases focus and memory), and it supports a strong immune system, among so many other benefits!

matcha energy bites

Match Energy Bites

Makes 10 bites @ 35-40 grams each

Ingredients

1.5 Tablespoons Matcha Powder

1.5 Tablespoons honey

4 Tablespoons almond flour

1 dash of cinnamon (optional)

2 Tablespoons coconut oil, melted

1 Cup coconut flakes, unsweetened, finely shredded (plus coconut to coat outsides)

110 grams Medjool dates, pitted

 

matcha bites

Put all ingredients, except the coconut oil and dates into the bowl of the food processor. Process the mixture for 30 seconds to a minute, until well combined. Add dates, one a time, through lid, while processor is running. While processor continues to run, pour in coconut oil through the lid. Allow mixture to blend thoroughly, 30 seconds to a minute. Remove lid and dump contents into a bowl.

matcha bites

Add half a cup of coconut flakes to a separate bowl. Either with or without a scale, measure out chunks of ‘dough’ about the size of a golf ball, or 35-40 grams each. Roll into a ball, toss the ball in the coconut flakes to coat, and place on a napkin lined tray.

All done!

matcha bites

Transfer to an airtight container and store in fridge up to a week or in the freezer for longer.

Grab one the next time you head out the door and never be caught again without a healthy snack on hand!

The Best Diet

real food

When someone finds out I’m a nutrition coach, one of the first things they want to know is which diet philosophy I promote. Paleo or vegan, high carb or low carb, intermittent fasting or frequent meals?

There are so many different diet dogmas. We want to categorize people quickly; decide if they’re a friend or a foe.  It’s disappointing to many that I don’t advocate one perfect diet.

whole foods diet

Diet Dogma

Eating is central to what it means to be human. People often choose their dietary practices based on much more than nutrition science or taste alone. So much goes into a person’s food choices, from cultural history to their most deeply held values about themselves and their beliefs about the world. So, it’s no wonder that people often attach their identity to how they eat. They become diet evangelists.

Your identity is more than what you eat, and if you can move beyond the idea of one right way to eat, the good news is that you don’t have to worry about fitting yourself into a certain diet box and set of rules. 

 

The human body is incredibly adaptable, which is why many different diets have produced great results for many different people. Folks often assume that the diet that worked for them is the diet that will work for you.  It’s THE diet. The one right way. This isn’t always the case, and in fact, the diet that worked for you in the past may not even be the diet that works for you now.

The foods that best fuel you depend on a variety of factors, including your goals and your unique physiology. Without learning a bit about who you are, it’s impossible for me to give a blanket diet recommendation.

compare common diets

Comparing Common Diets

Nutrition science is always evolving and pop nutrition is constantly pushing the merits of the newest ‘diet of the month’. So how do you sort through it all and figure out how to be healthy?

How can such different diets work for so many people? Even though some diets appear to have opposing rules, they actually may be much more similar than we realize.

For instance:

  • Diets help you raise awareness of what you’re eating. Paying attention to something is the first step towards changing it. Furthermore, most ‘diets’ produce weight loss because they create a calorie deficit, whether that’s caused by eating an abundance of plant fiber which fills you up or animal protein and saturated fat which satiate you.
  • Many popular diets promote high food quality. They suggest you eat more whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods, and less packaged junk food. Making up nutrient deficiencies and eating adequate protein, fiber and essential fatty acids will help anyone feel better, whether those nutrients are coming from a Paleo diet or a vegan diet or any other diet. Again, eating more real food and less junk leads to natural appetite control.

personalized eating

Personalized Eating

Rather than adhering to a specific diet dogma, I find it far more useful and effective to look into who you are. As similar as we humans are, we all intuitively know that we’re quite different when it comes to our unique physiology. For example, Tim from HR seems to thrive on a high fat, low carb diet, while you can’t seem to drag yourself out of bed when you eat bacon and butter all day. 

Instead of a set of diet rules, reaching your specific goals begins with questions.

What does your diet look like now? How old are you? Do you have a history of extreme dieting or overtraining? What are your current exercise habits like? What are your stress and sleep habits like? What foods do you prefer? What’s your budget? What does your lifestyle look like? Do you like to cook? All these and more will factor into finding the “perfect diet” for you.

Everyone has a different genetic makeup, metabolic history, and hormone profile. Furthermore, everyone has different tastes and preferences, different budgets, and different lifestyle factors to take into consideration.

Rather than giving a client one prescribed diet as the only option, a good coach will work with a client’s unique situation to determine what will fit into the client’s life in a *sustainable* way. It doesn’t matter how healthy Brussels sprouts are if they’re on your meal plan and you’re not going to eat them.

Don’t Waste Mental Energy on Diet Stress

The important thing is to determine what works for YOU. That takes time and experimentation. It’s a strategic process. Whether you do this on your own or with the support of a coach, finding what works for you, at this point in your life, helps you reach your goals faster, with much less distraction and frustration.

So, my answer is that the perfect diet is unique to your physiology, your preferences, your lifestyle, and your budget. The magic is in using reliable principles and best practices. Instead of giving you a “diet plan”, we look at your habits, and strategically and gradually change them to give you lasting results.

Interested in finding YOUR PERFECT DIET? Click here to schedule a free call.

5 Immune Boosting Herbs You Already Have in Your Kitchen

garlic immune

There are morning routines, evening routines, and a hundred other healthy habits we’re ‘supposed’ to fit into each day.

You know herbs are good for you, but sometimes it feels like one more thing to fit into your day. You have to buy them, prepare them, take them. It can feel overwhelming, so we forego our herbs even though we love using plant medicines to enhance our daily lives.

Does this sound familiar?

The good news is that some of our most powerful herbal allies are likely already in your kitchen. With a few changes in your habits and mindset, you can up your ingestion of these potent plants and reap the myriad benefits with little extra effort.

An easy way to incorporate more herbs into your day is to include them into an activity you’re already doing. Eating is one such activity. As Hippocrates said, food is medicine, and eating is one of our prime opportunities to take in more medicine. Before each meal, ask yourself “How can I make this even healthier?”.

Building a strong immune system is always important, but it’s even more crucial this time of year when colds and flu are common. The following list includes 5 immune-boosting herbs and how to incorporate them into meals.

 

ginger immune

Ginger

Ginger is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory herb due to it’s rich phytochemistry, which includes compounds such as gingerols, shogaols, paradols, and zingerone. In addition to many other health benefits, it boosts circulation and has potent antimicrobial properties, which make it an ideal immune-boosting ally.

Ginger is easy to incorporate into any meal. Add raw or powdered ginger to your morning smoothie. Add ginger to your oatmeal. Drink ginger tea. Add ginger to curry dishes and homemade desserts.

 

turmeric immune

Turmeric

With over 10,000 peer-reviewed studies, turmeric is one of the most researched herbs with several wide-ranging health benefits. A member of the same family as ginger, turmeric also has potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties, all of which contribute to it’s immune enhancing abilities.  

Turmeric is a great addition to smoothies, and goes well with most soups and stews. It’s great added to eggs or sauteed veggies, and is a natural fit for rice dishes and curries.

garlic immune

Garlic

Second only to turmeric in the amount of research supporting its health benefits is garlic. The antiviral, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties of raw garlic make it ideal for fending off colds and flus, largely due to the compound allicin.

Garlic is a great addition to any saute, homemade salad dressings and dips, soups and stews, or any meat and veggie seasoning blend.

turmeric immune

Cayenne

Cayenne is packed with immune-boosting beta carotene and antioxidants. It increases circulation, and helps break up and move mucus out of the body, reducing flu and cold symptoms.

Cayenne can be added to any drink, sauce, or meal that needs a spicy kick. Adding it to eggs, veggies, nuts, dressings, and meat are all great options.

cinnamon immune

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is at the top of the charts in terms of its antioxidant levels. Additionally, it has antibacterial, antiviral, and circulation stimulating properties. Its high content of the anti-inflammatory compound cinnamaldehyde make it essential for cold and flu season.

Adding cinnamon to oatmeal and smoothies is a great way to start the day. It also goes well in homemade desserts, chilli, curries, stews, and any dish needing a warming flavor.

Start slow and add any of these herbs in when you can. They’re sure to add a boost to the health and flavor of any meal.

Making Progress: Hashimoto’s Update

This is the second post in a series about my journey with the autoimmune condition Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Here’s part 1, in case you missed it. My intention with this series is to share my personal experience so that anyone who recognizes themselves in the symptoms can move forward with healing and know that lifestyle changes can make a HUGE positive impact. 

Contrary to my wildest hopes, my Hashimoto’s and adrenal issues did not spontaneously go into remission as soon as I started targeting them. Unconsciously acting in alignment with the negativity bias, I tend to see how far I still have to go and what’s still wrong more than I focus on how far I’ve come. Can you relate?

However, though I can’t say I feel 100% everyday, when I look back at how I felt 3 years ago, or even just a full year ago, without a doubt, I feel much better.

In this post, I’ll briefly discuss what symptoms have improved for me, what I’m still struggling with, and a brief overview of the protocol.

What has improved for me?

My energy levels throughout the day are much more consistent. I don’t struggle with afternoon fatigue much. I can go running and go to the gym again without feeling completely drained or experiencing the deep muscle fatigue that I couldn’t shake previously.

My hormones are becoming more balanced. I know this because, among other indicators, my monthly cycle is regular again. Also, my sleep cycle has regulated. I feel tired in the evenings and fall asleep easily, I sleep through the night, and I usually wake without an alarm, with plenty of energy to start the day. This also indicates to me that my cortisol level and rhythm is balanced. See this article if you’re curious to learn more about adrenal health, especially as it pertains to endurance athletes.

I no longer struggle with feeling cold as much as I used to, especially in my hands. I used to have constantly cold hands and feet. This was particularly a struggle in shoulder seasons and on winter adventures when my hands would get so cold (even with multiple gloves on) that I would need my adventure buddy to help me with zippers, clasps, and opening food wrappers. This was so frustrating and often unsettling on solo adventures.

My immune system feels strong. Despite several sick coworkers, being out in public places often, and having a very full schedule, I haven’t gotten sick this winter. I never used to get sick much either, but this is also confirmation that my immune system is healthy.

Finally, (and this is huge), I feel like my digestive system is working so much better again. As I mentioned in the previous post, leaky gut is one of the factors which contribute to the expression of autoimmune disorders, so getting my gut health in order is top priority for me. Pardon the graphic nature of this next paragraph, but this is a health website after all, so properly documenting my full experience is important and hopefully helpful to anyone else who is struggling.

How did my gut health change? I started digesting and assimilating my food much better. I know this because my BMs went from not-so-regular and loose to regular and well-formed. This is so important because it was very noticeable evidence that I was healing my leaky gut. Hooray! That translates to less immune system activation (a good thing in this case) because large proteins are no longer permeating the gut lining. Digesting my food properly has also given me more energy.

I didn’t realize my digestion was so out of whack until it got better. I spent several years as a baker and pastry chef. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, and when I would eat bread, it was organic and naturally-leavened (think sourdough), so it’s not like I was going crazy with pastries and bread on the daily. In retrospect though, I now realize that even that small amount of gluten was likely significantly contributing to my poor gut health, and the expression of autoimmune symptoms.

What still needs improvement?

It’s satisfying to reflect on the positive changes that have taken place, because healing any health condition with diet and lifestyle changes takes true dedication and commitment, and it can be challenging.

That being said, many autoimmune conditions can be put into remission, but you can’t expect them to disappear overnight. While I feel significant improvement in many of my thyroid symptoms, there are a couple things I still struggle with.

One is not feeling as resilient as I used to be. For example, if I don’t get the sleep that I need, I really struggle with energy levels the next day. My hope is that as I continue to repair my hormone profile, I’ll be able to bounce back quicker from a night of poor sleep.

Another issue is occasional brain fog. While I feel much more clear and focused and have better memory recall than I did a couple years ago, I still find that some days, I just don’t feel as on point as I know I’m capable of being. This is greatly impacted by diet and sleep.

Finally, and this is a difficult one for anyone athletic, or anyone at all really, is that my body is still holding on to some extra weight despite a clean diet and regular movement practice. This makes sense since the thyroid governs metabolism, but it’s frustrating none-the-less.

What’s the protocol I’ve followed?

I’ll briefly outline the protocol I’ve followed and then will dive in more deeply in a future post.

It was important to me to try as many lifestyle changes as possible to heal my thyroid gland before going on medication, so the protocol I used is based entirely around diet, sleep, stress management, and supplements.

It’s organized in 3 stages, including a liver cleanse, an adrenal reset, and a gut healing phase. Each stage progressively eliminated more trigger foods and focused on key supplements to start taking. Lifestyle practices, such as getting optimal sleep and reducing stress as much as possible, were also emphasized.

I definitely didn’t complete the program perfectly, but the changes I made were enough to elicit big shifts in my health. I understand there’s still a journey ahead, but the progress so far is promising.

Post questions/comments below or reach out to me via my contact form, and keep an eye out for the next installment.

 

How To Recover From Holiday Overeating

Recovering From Holiday Overindulgence

Hit the holidays hard this year? Perhaps you overate or ate foods that don’t sit well with you. Maybe your energy is feeling low or your digestion is off or your clothes are feeling a bit snug.

Maybe you’ve got big adventures planned for 2018 and are ready to refocus on your upcoming goals.

hiking

I’m not really into detoxes or cleanses, but I find that it’s nice to give the body additional rest and resources to repair after hitting it hard over the holidays.

Get back on track with the following tips:

*Enhance Liver Function

Instead of doing a harsh detox, I like to support the body’s own detoxification processes by supporting liver function. This includes starting the day with lemon water, sipping dandelion tea, and drinking plenty of water throughout the day.

lemon water

*Sweat It Out

Choose whatever you like to do (yoga, hiking, running, cycling, etc) and move your body at least a little bit each day. This will stimulate lymph flow and help move toxins out of the body. For additional benefit, find a sauna and get your sweat going there as well.

yoga

*Support Your Microbiome

Give your microbiome a little bit more love. Holiday treats are often rich and contain GMOs and foods additives (such as artificial colors and preservatives) that are harmful to healthy gut bacteria. Support digestion, assimilation, and elimination by enhancing your healthy gut bacteria. Eat more fiber from fruits and veggies to feed your healthy bacteria and help support healthy bacterial diversity by eating more fermented foods, like kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir.

veggies

*Prioritize Sleep

Sleep is the time when your body repairs and recovers. Getting enough sleep also helps you maintain more balanced blood sugar levels and have fewer cravings. Sleep needs vary by person, but in general, aim for 7.5-8 hours per night.

sleep

Incorporate one or all of these strategies and you’ll be back to feeling strong, lean, and ready to take on your goals in no time!

My Top 3 Food Strategies to Optimize Performance

How I Use Food to Optimize Performance

If you were to ask me what has moved the needle the most in terms of reclaiming my health from an autoimmune condition, well, I’m afraid the answer is pretty boring.

It’s not an exciting new human optimization hack ,nor is it an exotic supplement, or an obscure superfood.

The biggest factors in getting my thyroid and adrenals back online has been a strategic diet and intentional rest. People often want the latest, greatest thing, especially in the health space. The next wonder pill that will take away all that ails us without any additional effort on our part.

The new, the exotic, and the obscure are more sexy, that’s true, but time and time again in my life and in my health, I find that it always comes back to the basics. It’s the simple things I do consistently that create lasting change.

In this post, I’ll focus on the dietary strategies I’ve employed to use food as fuel to get back to performing at my fullest potential.

Eat a Whole Foods Diet That Turns On Intracellular Antioxidants

We’ve all heard that it’s important to eat an antioxidant rich diet, but there’s more to the story than the common adage to ‘eat your fruits and veggies’. That’s great advice, but for those of us who like to be efficient and strategic, we need to go a bit deeper.

Food is information for the body. I’m not being metaphorical here. There are actually specific foods that contain phytonutrients which have the power to upregulate or downregulate the genetic pathways which control inflammation in the body.

We’re living in a time where more than 80% of inflammation-induced chronic conditions are caused by lifestyle factors*. Eighty percent!

All of us are being exposed to more stressors than ever before. We’re constantly producing damaging free radicals, both internally from normal physiologic processes such as respiration, and externally from lifestyle choices (e.g. smoking, stress, fried foods, strenuous exercise), pesticides, environmental pollution, food preservatives, and more.

Traditionally, dietary education has focused on antioxidants from the diet to prevent free radical damage. Examples include beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium.

However, a far more effective way to approach oxidative stress is to stimulate our genes to produce proteins that are more efficient at sequestering free radicals than are dietary antioxidants. These intracellular proteins, which include superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, and catalase, quench free radicals at a rate of millions per second while dietary antioxidants quench free radicals at a rate of 1 to 1. Think of putting a house fire out with a fire truck hose versus a garden hose.

chard

The exciting part is that we can upregulate these intracellular proteins by eating certain phytonutrients from specific foods. The most well researched of those phytonutrients are in cruciferous vegetables, alliums, berries, herbs and spices, legumes, nuts and seeds, and olive oil.

Instead of eating by numbers, counting calories or calculating RDAs, the better approach is to ask ourselves: what instructions is my food giving my genes? Eating foods which activate our intracellular antioxidant enzymes is far more efficient at addressing free radical damage than relying solely on dietary antioxidants.

Balance Blood Sugar

Have you ever been hangry (hungry angry)?

I used to get hangry a lot. Besides causing my mental, physical and emotional well-being to suffer, and causing my friends and coworkers to avoid me, having chronically low blood sugar was having serious consequences on my health.

Allowing blood sugar to drop too low causes the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol. We all know that feeling of being sweaty, weak, dizzy, and shaky.

Cortisol has been correlated with increased obesity and BMI, and is a catabolic hormone, which means it breaks tissue down. This is disadvantageous for those of us trying to build or maintain muscle.

Cortisol must be managed, and while there are several ways to do this, diet is one of the most effective. Avoiding excessive release of cortisol is accomplished through avoiding extreme spikes and crashes in blood sugar.

metabolic fire

When considering our metabolic fire, the campfire analogy is one of the best. Carbohydrates are the kindling. Fats and protein are the logs. When we put kindling on the fire, it lights quickly and burns out quickly. When we put logs on the fire, it burns slow and steady. Carbohydrates cause a quick spike and crash in blood sugar, causing stress on the body and excessive cortisol to be released. Fats and proteins are broken down and assimilated by the body more gradually and allow for more sustained energy.

Favoring fats, proteins, and fiber over carbohydrates helps the body maintain balanced blood sugar and avoid the excessive release of cortisol.

Improve Gut Health

People like to say “You are what you eat”, but I believe the saying “You are what you absorb” is more accurate. You can eat the best diet in the world, but if you’re not absorbing and assimilating your nutrients, it’s a wasted effort.

Our intestines are about 25 feet long and contain an estimated 100 trillion bacteria which help us digest our food, produce certain vitamins, regulate our immune system, and keep us healthy by protecting us against disease.

There are many lifestyle factors that drive gut flora imbalance, but one of the primary ones is diet. When the microbiome is out of balance, we can experience disease, fatigue, anxiety, depression, immune suppression, food sensitivities, weight gain and overall diminished quality of life.

The health of your microbiome plays a role in which vitamins and minerals make their way to fuel your muscles, and this is why gut health is the foundation of using food as fuel.

Consuming a range of insoluble and soluble fibers may be the best way of maintaining a healthy gut microbiota population. Specifically, foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and legumes act as prebiotic food which feed your good gut bacteria. Probiotic foods, which help support healthy bacterial populations, are also important and examples include cultured and fermented foods. Also consider a high quality probiotic supplement like this or this.

It’s Our Choice
Diet is one of the biggest factors in determining our health and one which we have complete control over. Focusing on these dietary strategies has been crucial in recovering my health from Hashimoto’s. Our bodies have an incredible capacity to heal if we allow them. How amazing is that?!