Monthly Archives: December 2013

Day 21 – Sleep In!

Cats know how important sleep is.

Cats know how important sleep is.

The tip for day 21 of  31 Days of Healthy Ways to Enjoy the Holidays More is to sleep in!  If you’re reading this, then you’re probably already up so sleep in tomorrow, ok?  If you can’t sleep in, then try to fit in some naps this weekend.

There’s no better way to recharge and recoup from the stresses of the holiday season than getting a good night’s sleep.  Sleeping is when our body repairs itself and if you’re not getting enough you may increase your risk of cardiovascular issues and even gain weight. Plus, sleeping just feels good, especially when it’s so cold out!

If you’re someone who has trouble falling asleep, try taking a warm bath or shower with lavender oil shortly before bedtime.  The drop in body temperature when you get out of the shower will let your body know that it’s time for bed.  It also helps to keep the temperature in your bedroom cool.  Turn off electronics at least an hour before bed and you know the blank journal you’ve been keeping next to the bed for your gratitude assignment from Day 19? Take a few minutes to jot down any last minute worries or things that belong on your to do list.  This will free your mind to rest.  If you thoughts about what you need to do the next day floating into your head when you first turn off the light, get up and jot those down too.  It really helps!

Don’t waste any of your time feeling guilty about sleeping in.  Whether you stayed in bed until 8am or 11am, enjoy it, relish it and remember that you’re giving your body something it desperately needs.

Day 20 – Get Some Hot Chocolate

Your tip for the 20th day of  31 Days of Healthy Ways to Enjoy the Holidays More is to make yourself a cup of hot chocolate.

Chocolate has many health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, reduces insulin resistance and can even lower your stress levels. No wonder so many of us reach for the stuff when we’re overwhelmed and anxious!  It’s full of antioxidants, flavonoids and minerals like magnesium and iron. In order to get some health benefits from this delicious stuff, the key is the quality you choose.  Eating milk chocolate covered marshmallows isn’t going to do you any good.  There’s just not enough cocoa in it.  For snacking, look for organic dark chocolate, 70% cacao or higher.  And when choosing cocoa powder, look for non-alkalized (not Dutch) cocoa powders, preferably organic.  If you can find raw organic cacao powder, even better!  It tastes the same as cocoa but the processing is slightly different leaving it with higher antioxidant content (supposedly).

Healthier Hot Cocoa (makes 2 servings)

2-3 tbsp organic cocoa powder
1 1/2 tbsp organic honey or raw sugar
1 tbsp warm water
Pinch of sea salt
2 cups unsweetened organic almond milk (rice, dairy or soy milk also works)
optional: dash of real vanilla extract

Mix cocoa, honey and salt in a small sauce pan.  Stir in 1 tbsp warm water and bring to just boiling, stirring with a wooden spoon occasionally.  Once it boils, pour in your almond milk (or other milk) and vanilla (if using) and heat just until hot, again, stirring occasionally to make sure all the cocoa gets mixed in.  Serve and enjoy.

If you want a hot cocoa with a little more protein and pizzaz (and you have a great blender), check out this awesome recipe by Modern Vintage Cooking.  I make it with peppermint tea, one less date and a little extra cocoa.  It makes for a filling and delicious chocolatey snack.  I like it hot, John likes it cold.  Oh, and if you put it in the freezer for 45 minutes, you’ll have an awesome puddinglike concoction to eat with a spoon. YUM!

Cozy up today with a warm cup of hot chocolate!

Healthy Hot Cocoa

Healthy Hot Cocoa

Day 19 – What are you grateful for?

I'm always grateful to see a beautiful sunset!

I’m always grateful to see a beautiful sunset!

Wow, this month is flying by, huh?!  It’s day 19 of  31 Days of Healthy Ways to Enjoy the Holidays More and today’s tip is to spend a few minutes thinking about what you are grateful for.  I know we just had thanksgiving a few weeks ago but studies show that people who focus on the good in their lives feel happier than those who focus on the negative so I think it’s important to make gratitude a regular thing.  Most of us have a tendency to focus on what isn’t going well.   While it isn’t easy to pull your head up when things aren’t going well, trying to remember what you have, instead of what you don’t have, can make things look a little rosier.

Acknowledging what is good in your life, doesn’t mean that you’re going to stop trying to change things for the better or that everything is perfect, it just means that you are aware of all that you have. It doesn’t mean that you can’t vent about the bad things (especially when you are going through a lot!).  I have my struggles but ultimately I feel very lucky because I have a warm and safe home, a kind and hardworking husband, good health and supportive family and friends.  That’s not so bad!

Take a few minutes today to think about what is positive in your life.  What or who are you grateful for?  Was there something good that happened to you today?  You can write it down or tell someone.  Sometimes saying things out loud makes a bigger impact.

If you feel like expressing gratitude isn’t easy for you, or if a dark cloud seems to be following you around try this longer term exercise:

Keep a blank journal on your nightstand and every night before bed, write down three things that happened that day that you are grateful for.  Simple things are fine.  For example:

1. I’m grateful for the sunshine today
2. I’m grateful for my reliable car getting me to where I need to be
3. I’m grateful for good coffee

Try it for three weeks.  Your general outlook on life will improve and you will find it easier to see the good.

I know I have a lot to be grateful for this holiday season.  I hope you do too!

Day 18 – Finish that Shopping!

You’re in the homestretch for Christmas.  Hopefully you’ve finished all your shopping!  If you haven’t, try to get it all done in the next day or two.  Would be nice to have a few days to relax a little before the holiday?  Put your feet up for a bit, read a book?

I love visiting small businesses for gifts.  They often have local made goodies (who wouldn’t want some NH Grade B Maple Syrup?!) and unique gifts that you won’t find anywhere else.  Great if you’re stuck for ideas. Plus you’re supporting the local economy!

If you don’t have time to zip around to all your favorite stores, online shopping is also great resource.   If you know what you need to get, you can often find the best price by a few google searches.  Many online retailers have deadlines to order by so that you get your packages in time for Christmas.  Those deadlines are fast approaching, probably in the next day or two.

If I’m out of ideas for gifts, some of the sites I check out for inspiration for kids are:  The Land of NodMindwareEbeanstalk.  For adults:  Red EnvelopeGarnett HillZady or Uncommon Goods.  Moma online and Strolby both have really cool stuff for both adults and kids.  Can you tell I’ve spent too much time on the internet?

A few more ideas:

  • Gift cards – you can even buy various ones at gas stations and the grocery store now
  • Donate to a charity in their name (not a great idea for kids but adults appreciate this one – not many of us need another candle or new tie).
  • Buy a gift certificate to a local restaurant
  • A homemade creative gift – homemade jam or Coconut oil whipped up with some lavender oil as a body butter
  • A gift certificate to a local farm store or health food store

You’re almost there.  You’ve got this!

Day 17 – Ask for Help!

Two of my nieces washing dishes after a big family party.

Two of my nieces washing dishes after a big family party.

For our 17th day of 31 Days of Healthy Ways to Enjoy the Holidays More the tip is to ask for help with housework and errands.  You have more on your plate during the holidays.   We’ve already talked about how full your social calendar and to do list is.  Asking for help with it all is another strategy you can use to get through the season (and all year long).

Let me tell you something. You are not a martyr.  You don’t have to do everything on your own.  No one gets a prize in heaven for doing the dishes every night. You will be more effective if you aren’t spread so thin.  You will reduce your stress levels and you’ll be less likely to deal with your frustration by throwing yourself into a box of donuts. Ask your friends, kids, husband, coworkers or anyone else in your life for help.  You’ll be amazed how most people actually want to help when you ask.

When I was 9, I was helping my Dad install sheetrock in our garage and at 11 I was tall enough to reach the brakes in the car so I would help bleed the brakes when he was working on our station wagon. My sisters and I even helped Dad install a new well when ours crapped out. My parents had 5 kids and needed us to pitch in to get by.  I wasn’t a huge fan of these chores as a kid but now I appreciate all my parents made me do because it made me into a person who you can count on to get things done.  Not a bad trait to have.

There’s no reason why the kids can’t help out with chores around the house.  Even young kids can help clean up after themselves. Your preteen can do the dishes and your kindergartener can feed the family dog.  Your 8 year old can bring in the mail after school.  The Happy Housewife has a great printable chart for age appropriate chores for kids.  Not only does it help you out, but you’re also teaching your kids valuable lessons about responsibility that they’ll need as an adult. So important!

If the kids helping out isn’t enough and your budget allows it, think about hiring a cleaning service to come in to clean once a week or every other week.  Rates average $25 – $40 an hour to have someone vacuum, dust, clean the bathrooms and more.  Think about how many hours you spend cleaning.  Wouldn’t it be nice to come home after a busy day and someone has already taken care of it?  If you go out for lunch at work everyday and switch to brown bagging it (which is better for you anyhow), you’ll now have the cash needed to pay for cleaning help.

Ask a neighbor to pick up the kids from basketball practice.  Ask a friend to pick up a prescription for you.  Ask your husband to pick up a healthy take out for dinner.  Ask a coworker to proof a presentation for you.

If someone you cared about asked you for help, wouldn’t you say yes?  Exactly.  Do it.  You’ll feel so much better and they’ll feel good for being able to help you.

Day 16 – Wine it up!

It's ok, you can have a little!

It’s ok, you can have a little!

We’re already at day 16 of 31 Days of Healthy Ways to Enjoy the Holidays More and today’s tip is to sip on a glass of wine for your health and waistline.  There are certainly many reasons to not drink alcohol but worries about derailing a diet are not one of them.

Have you been missing having red wine because you’re trying to lose weight?  Did you know that you can work in a glass of wine a few nights a week and still lose weight?  There’s no reason why you can’t have a few glasses a week while working towards a weight loss goal (barring certain health conditions). A well balanced diet and active life gives you a little healthy wiggle room to indulge and you’re actually more likely to stay on track when you don’t set up strict restrictions.  One 5oz glass of red wine a day for a woman is totally reasonable and comes in at only 125 calories.  No big deal!  In fact, there’s even some research showing that a compound in wine can stop fat cells from growing.  So it might help you lose weight after all.

If helping you have a balanced lifestyle and stop fat cell growth aren’t enough reasons for you to enjoy a few glasses this holiday, here are more health benefits for sipping on the red stuff:

  • cardiovascular protection (it reduces systolic blood pressure and relaxes the arteries)
  • slows aging
  • increases HDL (good) cholesterol
  • reduces LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • reduces inflammation (which may decrease joint pain)
  • reduces chance of blood clot formation (it thins the blood)
  • may help control blood sugar in diabetics
  • strengthens memory
  • slows down cancer cell growth 

If you want to learn more about how to have a healthy balanced diet and lifestyle, I can help.  I know it’s only Monday, but I think I’m going to open up a bottle tonight and have a small glass.  You should too!  And if you want to learn more about how you can have a legit healthy balanced diet and lifestyle everyday (not just at the holidays), I can help.  Don’t be afraid to reach out!

Day 15 – Reflect on the Meaning of the Season

Image courtesy of digidreamgrafix  / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digidreamgrafix / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The tip for day 15 of 31 Days of Healthy Ways to Enjoy the Holidays More is to take a few minutes to ponder the meaning of the holiday season, whatever that means for you or your beliefs. Remember what this magical time about.

No matter what your beliefs, religion or background, if you have a family, there is a probably a holiday between November and January that is near and dear to your heart.  I grew up in a Catholic family so Christmas was (and is) a big deal and not just because Santa was really good to the five kids in our family. My parents made sure we knew that Christmas was about the birth of Jesus and all that Mary and Joseph had to go through to find a safe place for the birth.  We went to church every Sunday but the only time I actually got excited to go to church was on Christmas Eve.  I looked forward to being able to sing all the beautiful Christmas songs in church.

I still look forward to Christmas for several reasons and part of that is because people are a little nicer, we do things for others for unselfish reasons and generally all the giving that is going around just makes me feel good.  I wish people were this kind all year round but I’ll take what I can get.  I’m actually not religious as an adult, but I still see Jesus as a great example of how to love and accept each other, something that we all need more of.  In addition to being the birthday of Jesus, Christmas has become a general reminder for me to just slow down and pay attention to the people in my life.  Remember who you care about, who’s no longer with us, who you love, why you love them, what greater purpose you are here for and how you can make a bigger difference in this word.

Maybe you don’t come from a religious background but celebrate New Years.  The new year is a perfect time to reflect on who you are, where you’ve been and where you’re going.  Also, how you affect others and how you can change that for the better. Try to keep these reflections in the front of your mind for the holidays and all year long.

Day 14 – Keep Things in Perspective by Laughing it off

The holiday season comes with a lot of fun, fuzzy feelings and good will towards others.  It also comes with a lot of stress.  Your regular busy life becomes busier and an already bursting to do list and social calendar get even crazier causing your stress levels to go way up.   Our tip for day 14 of 31 Days of Healthy Ways to Enjoy the Holidays More is to spend some time laughing.  Laughing is a phenomenal way to relieve stress!

Laughter gets your muscles moving, your heart beating faster and can even burn a few calories.  It can even give your immune system a boost and help control your blood sugar. Studies show that watching a funny movie reduces blood pressure, even just anticipating laughter can reduce stress hormones in the body.  Laughing more can even help you get more restful sleep.

Put on a funny movie, spend a little time catching up with a girlfriend or look for a local Laughter Yoga class near you for a little holiday stress relief. Or just search cute kitty or laughing baby videos on youtube.  My goal is to laugh in my sleep like this cutie!

Day 13 – Don’t get SAD

Don't let the winter blues get you down.

Don’t let the winter blues get you down.

For day 13 of 31 Days of Healthy Ways to Enjoy the Holidays More we’re talking about how to avoid getting SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) this holiday season.  Your tip today is to arm yourself against SAD with these strategies to keep seasonal depression from ruining your holiday mojo.

Winter technically hasn’t even started yet but the days are shorter and the nights longer which we’re exposed to less daylight.  This can disrupt our sleep cycle, affect our mood, sex drive and even cause crazy food cravings.  Do you find you have a hard time getting out of bed this time of year? Do you feel cranky and overwhelmed? Is that double burger from Five Guys impossible to resist?  You might have a tinge of SAD and it can make winter seem even longer than it is.  So what can you do about it?

Take a Vitamin D3 Supplement

Vitamin D is responsible for several important functions in the body, including regulating the immune system, building strong bones, and keeping muscles and nerves functioning.  Our bodies create vitamin D for all these vital processes through exposure to the sun.  Unfortunately, people living in the northern hemisphere can’t produce enough Vitamin D during the colder months because we’re at a farther angle to the sun.  There are only a handful of foods that contain Vitamin D naturally (cod liver oil, egg yolks, beef liver, swordfish and salmon).  Odds are this time of the year, you’re getting most of your vitamin D from fortified dairy and cereals but the form that is used for those foods (D2) is not as effective as D3.  Research suggests that low levels of Vitamin D contribute to seasonal depression and since we’re not able to get it from enough sun exposure or from our food sources, the next best thing to do is to take a supplement.

The Vitamin D Council recommends adults take 5000 IU a day during the winter months if they suspect they have a deficiency.  Vitamin D is a powerful supplement so if you are on any medications or have any medical conditions you should talk to your doctor about whether vitamin D is right for you.

Stock up on Omega 3s

There are a whole world of health benefits associated with the consumption of Omega 3 fatty acids, including improvement of depression symptoms and cognitive function. Studies have shown a correlation between low levels of Omega 3s and depression and with our long winter it’s important to make sure you get enough of them.

Eat wild caught fatty fish once or twice a week and be sure to check out the mercury content of those you buy regularly.  If you’re not a huge fan of fish, a fish oil supplement is a great idea.  Look for one that contains both DHA and EPA and has been tested (and passed) by IFOS for purity, stability and heavy metal levels.

If you’re vegetarian, load up on walnuts, flax seeds, hemp seeds, sesame seeds, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower to get your Omega 3s.  The health benefits are a little less powerful than eating fish or taking a fish oil supplement but it’s far better than going without.

Eat up Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds are awesome because they’re loaded lots of goodies including magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, zinc and tryptophan.   They’re also a good source of fiber, protein and those fab omega 3 fatty acids we talked about earlier.  The reason they’re good food for people suffering from SAD is because of the tryptophan.  Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that converts into serotonin in the body.  Serotonin is known for helping us get a good night’s sleep as well as preventing depression.  Eating foods high in tryptophan will help you get a good night’s sleep, prevent depression and even reduce social anxiety.

Other good sources of tryptophan are egg whites, spirulina, Atlantic cod, milk, chicken, game meat and sesame seeds.

Exercise

Exercise is a well known mood booster.  All that hard work releases endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine! Your body and brain loves these chemicals.   Studies show that a regular exercise program can improve mild to moderate depression.  It’s probably related to the release of those chemicals but there’s also something to be said for the personal satisfaction and accomplishment that comes with finishing a hard workout.  Put on your sneakers and get moving.

I hope some of these strategies come in handy so you can feel good all winter long.

Day 12 – All We are Saying, is Give Peas (and Kale) a Chance

Day 12’s tip of  31 Days of Healthy Ways to Enjoy the Holidays More is to make vegetables the star of your plate.  Keep holiday weight gain at bay and keep your immune system strong by fueling your body with plant foods.

Not only does eating lots of vegetables fill you up for few calories but they also keep your digestive system moving when it could otherwise get bogged down by all the goodies that find their way inside during the holidays.  You should plan to fill at least half your plate with vegetables.

We all know we should be doing this so why is it so hard sometimes?  Probably because of how much prep work that comes with eating vegetables. No one wants to come home from a long day at work and wash, chop and cook vegetables.  It’s so much easier just to slap a sandwich together or boil some pasta, right?  Here’s how to make veggies easier:

1.  When you come home from the grocery store, spend an hour washing, peeling and chopping all your veggies.  Put the prepared vegetables in storage containers in the fridge and you’ll be ready to cook when dinner rolls around.

2. Buy pre-washed salad greens, like the one’s by Olivia’s Organics.  No prep needed!

3.  Stock up on bags of frozen veggies.  Great to throw in to quick stir fries or soups.

The other reason we skimp on veggies when we’re busy is a lack of knowing how to prepare them so they don’t taste like cardboard.  Here are a few tasty & simple ways to prepare them:

1.  Salad bar time.  Stock up on pomegranates, pumpkin seeds, roasted chestnuts, olives, dried cranberries, avocado, sun dried tomatoes, sunflower seeds and other healthy goodies to top your salad with in a pinch.  Combine one or two of those things with the veggies you’ve pre washed and chopped, a little olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar and you have an awesome salad.

2.  Roast seasonal produce at 400 degrees with a drizzle of olive oil and a little sea salt until soft and lightly browned.  Try any combination of:  Brussels sprouts, beets, turnip, acorn squash, butternut squash, onions, garlic, carrots, parsnips, celery root, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Amazing.  I dare you not to like roasted veggies.  It’s vegetable candy for your mouth.

3. Steam cruciferous green bad boys like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, bok choy and spinach and drizzle with a little tamari and lemon juice.  Or top with a dollop of your favorite hummus.  Or chipotle spiked greek yogurt.

4.  Stir fry mushrooms, peas, scallions and cabbage in a little unrefined organic coconut oil.   Add some fresh ginger, garlic and a chili paste if you can handle the heat.  Add some coconut milk if you dig it. Done.

5. Leftover veggies from any one of these ideas?  Add chicken broth, maybe a can of organic diced tomatoes, some spices and protein and you’re good to go.

Serve any of these vegetable stars with the protein of your choice and maybe some whole grains like quinoa, brown rice or millet. Yum and done.   And you’ll probably have enough leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Veggies don’t have to be hard if you’re willing to be creative and set aside a little time once a week to tackle them.  What are your favorite ways to eat your veggies?

Roasted vegetables don't taste healthy.

Roasted vegetables don’t taste healthy.