Monthly Archives: January 2015

Two Things Need to Happen if You Want to Change Your Life

photo credit: petrichor via photopin cc

photo credit: petrichor via photopin cc

I’ll get right down to the point. The way I see it, there are only two things you need to do if you want to change your life. It doesn’t matter if “change your life” means losing weight, changing careers, finding love, quitting smoking, getting off of sugar, reducing anxiety or most anything else.

The two things that need to happen are:

1. You have to really want it.
2. You have to continuously take steps towards that goal.

I don’t mean to trivialize how difficult changing your life is, because it’s definitely not easy and we certainly can’t take steps to change until we are ready, but so many people give up before they even start because they see where they are now and where they want to be as two points that are miles apart. They can’t see how they can get from one to the other so they don’t do anything about it.

No amount of wishing your life was different or being envious of others success will change your life. No amount of ignoring your situation will change it. No amount of complaining about it will make a difference. And there will be no perfect time in your life to make it happen. Life doesn’t slow down and suddenly become more convenient. A special opportunity when all things are aligned won’t show up.

It may sound harsh to lay it out like this but I’ve noticed that the difference between most people who are successful at changing and those who aren’t is often as simple as being willing to continuously take action, even when they’re busy or feel like giving up. They don’t give excuses a moment to take root.

No, changing your life isn’t easy. It’s usually hard work and sometimes you feel like you’re taking a lot of steps that don’t really seem to be going anywhere. But if you keep taking action you will move forward. It may not be as fast as you would like and you may need to revise your goals along the way. You may even realize during your journey that you want to head in another direction. That’s okay! That’s still growth. You’re still changing your life!

If you feel like you are taking action and working towards a goal but nothing is happening, ask yourself if there is something you could be doing towards this goal that you’re not already doing. Also important, is your goal a S.M.A.R.T. goal (S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific – Measurable – Attainable – Realistic – Timed)? Goals that are well defined are easier to reach.

If you have clearly outlined the steps to reach your goal but are not making the progress you would like, is it possible you are self-sabotaging? Maybe you’re unconsciously afraid of this change so you’re finding ways to not move forward (been there!) or you’re not really sure how to change something (been there too!) so you end up spinning in circles.

Another possibility is that you don’t really want to reach this goal to begin with. Many of us think we want to achieve something because it is what society expects of us or it’s a story we’ve told ourselves for many years. If you don’t really want it, there is no amount of goal setting or coaching that’s going to make it happen.
Goal Setting Blog Post (1)

If you’re just getting started with change, try to not take on too much too soon. It’s the fastest way to get overwhelmed and discouraged. Start with small changes first and build on them as you gain confidence and momentum.

For weight loss, try adding in an extra vegetable each day to start. When that becomes easy, consider starting an exercise routine (if you’re not already – and with your doctor’s approval). It can be just 10 minutes a few times a week to begin. Start there and keep building!

If you want to change careers and know what you want to do but don’t know what it takes to get there, start by doing research on your dream field and reach out to people already working in that field that you know already (or find them on Linkedin) and ask if they’d be willing to tell you how they got their foot in the door. Get the ball rolling and get excited about your future and your next steps will appear.

For increased chances of success, consider sharing your goals with a friend and asking them to hold you accountable or hire a coach who can help you navigate roadblocks. Having support can go a long way towards your progress.

For true change to happen you have to want what you’re after and continuously take action towards it. If you do those two things we’ll be celebrating your accomplishment in just a matter of time. I’ll buy the champagne!
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The Easiest Way to Eat “Healthy”

whole foods make it easy!

whole foods make it easy!

Sometimes I forget that not everyone has been on a food journey for as long as I’ve been on one. While I’ve been cooking, studying health and nutrition and battling my weight and eating issues for far more than a decade, the average person just doesn’t give it all that much thought. Maybe they do if they’re a big foodie, if they want to lose a few pounds or if they have a health scare where they need to change their diet to manage their condition. But for the average person who’s never been in one of these scenarios, convenience or preference often rules the day. My husband pointed this out to me recently as I went on and on about some misleading statements a commercial on TV was using to make their food product sound like a healthy choice. He said “Andrea you take it for granted that you know that, most people don’t. I don’t.”

Thanks to John bringing me back down to earth, I thought it might be a good idea to use today’s post to clear up some of the confusion that’s out there around “healthy” eating.

I follow these guidelines myself and find them to be the simplest “diet” (ahem, lifestyle!) to follow. I no longer have to worry about calories, fat or anything else. And I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been because of them. I feel like I can finally relax around food.

Forget about Labeling Claims
One huge problem with figuring out what is good for us is that we see labels in the store that say “heart healthy!” or “good source of whole grains” or “Natural” but those labels don’t necessarily mean that the food product is good for you. In fact, for some of these labels there is no strict definition by the FDA – foods can be labeled as “Natural” as long as the don’t contain artificial or synthetic ingredients and that leaves a lot of vague wiggle room. “Heart Healthy” labels mean a food is low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. As long as it fits those criteria they can use whatever ingredients they want, including chemicals, preservatives and artificial junk. I could write 30 pages on misleading food labels but that would be overkill. The important takeaway around labels is this: Ignore food labels.

Most food label claims are there purely for marketing. They’re designed to convey information that will make us want to buy it. They are not designed with your health in mind. They’re there to make money.

You’ll notice as different food trends show up, new labels will appear. Gluten free is a big one right now and while avoiding gluten is incredibly important for many people, the fact that a product doesn’t contain gluten does not mean it’s good for you. It could still be full of refined grains, sugar and other stuff you don’t want to eat. If you’re going to look at packaging at all, focus on the ingredient list (what’s in it?) and the nutrition label (the part that lists the fiber, calories etc).

I wrote a blog post on this topic last year if you want to read a little more about label claims.

One easy way to avoid the confusion that food labeling claims make is to focus on what we call “Whole Foods”.

Focus on Whole Foods
I’m not talking about the grocery store by the same name. I’m talking about a group of foods that you can always count on to be full of high quality nutrition. There’s no standard definition for the term “whole foods”. Sometimes people also use the phrase “clean eating”. Some people are very strict in their interpretation of it and others are a little more forgiving with criteria. It’s up to you to decide what makes sense and will be easy for you to remember.

To me, whole foods are:

  • food that is close to nature as possible
  • foods that your grandmother and great grandmother would recognize as food
  • grown or raised
  • food that will rot or go bad

To me, whole foods don’t:

  • have artificial sweeteners, preservatives, chemicals or food coloring in them
  • need to be made in a factory. While some whole foods may be processed at a factory slightly (think canned beans or frozen vegetables) for convenience but they still resemble their original form very closely.
  • have very long ingredient lists

Examples of whole foods are:

  • vegetables & fruit
  • meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy
  • whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, amaranth, bulgur, barley, teff etc)
  • beans & lentils
  • nuts, seeds, avocados & olives
  • herbs, spices, vinegars, maple syrup and honey

What’s so great about Whole Foods?
Because they’re pretty close to their natural state and haven’t been refined or heavily processed, these foods have more vitamins, minerals and fiber than the majority of processed foods. They don’t have added sugar, added trans fats or refined flours that will spike your blood sugar. They don’t have chemicals or preservatives added. Nutrients have been stripped away or destroyed to make it taste better or last longer.

It’s easier to eat “healthy” when the majority of your foods fall into the whole foods category. Most are packed with nutrition. Healthy starts to get harder to figure out when we are buying a lot of convenient processed foods. That’s when we have to worry about the grams of fat, carbs etc as well as the ingredients.

While food processing started off as a way to feed more people, increase nutrition (in the case of fortified products), increase shelf life and portability, you only need to take a quick walk down the aisles of any grocery store to see that most food “products” are made to satisfy junk food cravings or convenience. We have whole aisles dedicated to “snack products” like chips and candy.  Entire walls of freezer cases for ice cream and non dairy “topping”. Let’s not kid ourselves, today, the majority of processed food is not about good nutrition or far reach.

What’s not a Whole Food?
Aside from the junk foods I mentioned above, something else that doesn’t really fit into the whole food category – most breads, pasta and baked goods in stores. You may be surprised to hear this. Whole grains in their whole form are great but products “made with” whole grain can be a whole other story. They are often refined (meaning the outer tough fiber is removed). It really depends on the ingredient list and is a case by case basis (the majority of stuff in the market doesn’t count).

Again, ignore the labeling claims about whole grains and focus on the ingredients. It may be high fiber (thanks to added fiber for bulk) but when a sweetener made from corn is the second ingredient, stay away. There are some breads on the market that are made with great ingredients. You really want to play detective and read each label before you purchase it. Your great grandmother would have never eaten a loaf of bread with high fructose corn syrup, so why should you eat one?

How to make this work for real life
Obviously if you’re eating a diet that is low in whole foods making a switch may seem like a huge task. It can be but it doesn’t have to be. As I said earlier, I’ve been on this food journey for more than a decade. Don’t put pressure on yourself to change everything overnight.

A few things that can help:

  • Make one change at a time and don’t make another until you are comfortable with each one. Perhaps you want to switch from a peanut butter brand that contains high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils to one that just contains peanuts. The taste will be very different at first but you’ll get used to it and over time begin to prefer it!
  • Make your goal 90/10 each day. 90% whole foods and 10% splurge or processed! Right now you might be at 40% whole foods and 60% processed. That’s ok. Keep the goal in mind and aim for higher whole foods intake over time. It will take time.
  • Cook / eat at home more often. It’s much easier to control the ingredients that go in our meals when we make them ourselves. I love a good restaurant meal like anyone else (maybe more than anyone else! haha) but we try to make eating out a special occasion. It’s possible to get whole foods at restaurants but it really depends on what you are ordering and where. In your own kitchen you know exactly what is in your food!
  • Keep an open mind. Be willing to try new foods and experiment. There will be foods you don’t like. There will be foods your kids don’t like. Try things at least a couple of times and prepare them different ways. You never know when you’ll stumble on a recipe that changes how you feel about a food!
  • Don’t deprive yourself. Eating well, eating clean, eating whole foods is not about depriving ourselves. It’s about doing the best we can for our bodies in any given moment. Sometimes, a piece of chocolate cake (or whatever your vice is) will fit the bill even if it’s not “clean”. As long as you don’t have a medical condition that makes that food dangerous, eat it occasionally and enjoy it when you do. Then go back to eating as well as you are able.

We’re in this for the long haul. I’m not sure who said it but . . . health isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. You don’t get up one day and finally reach “healthy”. You want to live well so that you can be your healthiest every day.

If you didn’t have time to read this long post, here’s all you really need to know:
1. Ignore label claims
2. look at ingredient lists
3. focus on whole foods as much as possible

I hope that cleared up some of the confusion around food that gets thrown at us day in and day out. There’s no need to follow trends or marketing campaigns if you listen to your body and stick to foods from nature.

I’m Not Judging You For Eating That

photo credit: mhaithaca via photopin cc

photo credit: mhaithaca via photopin cc

As I place my order with our waiter, I can tell by the way you’re looking at me that you are second guessing your choice. The way your eyes dart back and forth as you look down at the menu tells me you are searching frantically for an option that you think would be “ok”. The waiter looks around the room impatiently but manages to keep a tightly pursed smile on his lips.

I’m guessing you felt his impatience because you put the menu back down and quickly order. “I’ll just have the  . . . “.  He grabs our menus and hurries away to another table.  Without me saying anything or even changing the expression on my face, you blurt out (any one of these):

1.  “Oh, I’m only ordering this because I didn’t have breakfast today”
2.  “I’ve been so good lately that I’m rewarding myself. Back on the diet train tomorrow!”
3.  “I never eat this stuff but I haven’t had this in so long!”
4. “Do you ever cheat? You’re making me look bad!”

If we go out to lunch and I order a green salad and the wild salmon, there’s no need to add a disclaimer when you place your order (of macaroni and cheese, buffalo wings or a glorious piece of cheesecake or anything else).

I’m not judging you for what you eat. I’m not watching your every move. I’m not making an assessment of your entire diet because of one meal we share together.  I hope you extend me the same courtesy.

While I encourage eating less processed food, more whole foods from nature and being thoughtful about what ingredients we put in our bodies, I want you to know that it doesn’t mean that I expect that you will eat the exact way I do (or that you want to). We each have reasons for choosing the foods we do. It might be because it tastes good, it’s tradition, it feels good, it’s affordable, your kids like it, it’s good for you or any other reason. I know I have mine. What works for me may not work for you – and that’s totally ok. I promise I’m not judging you for your choices. My goal is to help you improve your diet and lifestyle and I will do that by meeting you where you are right now. And if where you are at the moment is a macaroni and cheese and cheesecake kind of place, I’ll be right over. I’ve visited more frequently than most.

If you are someone who doesn’t like vegetables, as your coach I would be setting you up for failure if I recommended you suddenly fit in 8 servings of vegetables every day. If I can get someone to go from eating 0 vegetables a day when we start working together to eating 2 a day after 6 months I consider that a major improvement and I know they do too.

I didn’t start eating the way I do overnight.  My food journey has been a long and varied one. When I was 23 I thought being “healthy” meant staying under a certain amount of calories, eating a lot of processed soy in place of dairy & meat, artificial sugars (because I was saving calories!) and drinking as much beer as I wanted as long as I exercised.  At 27 I thought being “healthy” just meant cooking everything from scratch, and as long as something was homemade, it didn’t matter if it had 3000 mg of sodium and 4 lbs of cheese in it (for proof, just visit a food blog from my past. It’s like a cheese and bread festival over there).

Over the years my diet has changed to whatever felt right to me at the time. Sadly, for many years “felt right” meant bingeing on junk food after restricting for long periods. After learning about food sensitivities and emotional eating, I’m much more in tune with what foods make me feel terrible and what makes me feel good.  So when you see me ordering certain types of food in a restaurant or saying “no thank you” to something I’m offered, know that I’m trying to do the best thing for me, right now.  And right now, the best thing for me is to give my body food that nourishes it and that doesn’t cause it uncomfortable symptoms or binge behavior. Those same foods might be ok for you – you know what’s best for your body.

My food choices are not about making you feel bad or about trying to appear perfect.

I spent a huge chunk of my life judging myself for the food I put in my body and feeling judged for every bite. People made comments about what I was eating to the point where every bite made me feel like a shitty person. Believe me when I say I have absolutely no desire to make you feel shitty too.  If me choosing to eat the way I do makes you feel shitty, that really sucks because it’s not my intention. If you think I’m judging you, yes it makes me feel kinda crappy but you’re the one that it really hurts. Are you going to enjoy what you just ordered now? Not if you think I’m calculating the good or badness of the contents of the plate in front of you. Honestly, I’m thinking about how glad I am that we finally ordered because I have to pee and also that I’m so excited to catch up with you.

photo credit: mastermaq via photopin cc

photo credit: mastermaq via photopin cc

I want you to know that I’m human. Even though I watch my sugar intake most of the time, I’m pretty sure I ate more chocolate over the holidays than most of you reading this (and most of it was NOT dark chocolate). Despite choosing to not eat cheese most of the time, last night I ate cheddar cheese and salami (and neither of it was organic or local and it was definitely loaded with chemical preservatives). I drink alcohol. I drink coffee. And I eat a lot of other things that you might think someone in my field may not do.

Do I walk my talk and eat the way I encourage others to eat? Yes, around 90% of the time. But 10% of the time, I give in to indulgences. And sometimes I derail hard and that 10% and 90% reverse for a few days. But then I get back up and go back to what I know works and feels good for me.

It’s my job to help others change what they don’t like about their lives & health and I can do this because of my training, but also because I have been a chameleon of change in my own life.  In this field of work, people often assume you must be perfect 100% of the time. I remember being terrified in coaching school because I was the opposite of perfect.  But I’m not finding that is actually a benefit when doing this work. I’m able to relate to people’s struggles better and they find me easier to talk to because of these experiences.

I know changing anything about ourselves isn’t easy. I know you’re probably going through your own battle. I know you’re probably scared to really share what you struggle with. You’re not alone and I promise I’m not judging you.

Judgement shouldn’t be a part of any meal on your end or mine.

Next time we share a meal together, I hope we both can order whatever is best for us at that moment, enjoy the meal and each other wholeheartedly and go about our day. No judgement of each other or ourselves. That’s best for everyone.
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If you think health is only about diet and exercise, you’re missing something that may be critical

You’ve finally got this exercise thing down. You know how much better you feel when you get some form of exercise most days and you’re loving the changes in how your clothes fit and how you look in the mirror.

You’ve really made some amazing changes in your diet too. You’re eating more vegetables than ever before, cooking at home more often and eating far less processed food. Your digestion is better and you have more energy.

You feel pretty good about all the changes you’ve made in the last year and you’re less worried about your long-term health now that you’re doing all the right things.

But there’s something really important that you haven’t given much thought to in regards to your health. Stress. Sure, you wish you had less of it and know you should probably find ways to manage it better, but if you’re eating well and exercising, it doesn’t really matter, right? Nope. It does matter and it matters more than you think.

Increases Risk of Disease and Complications
Both long term chronic stress and shorter term stressful events increases the risk of cardiac events, high blood pressure, stroke, makes blood sugar harder to control for diabetics, and so much more.  People with stressful lives more times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Chronic stress interferes with the speed at which wounds heal. A quick internet search will give you study after study that confirms the links between stress and health issues.  There’s no doubt that our stressful lives are adding the skyrocketing costs of health care in this country (though that’s a topic for another day and time).

Mental Health Issues
Chronic stress not only leads to the health problems mentioned above, but it also can cause anxiety, depression and sleep issues, all of which can increase our perceived feelings of stress and cause health problems of their own.

Poor Digestion
Being stressed can even interfere with digestion so even if you are eating better, your body won’t be able to utilize all of the good nutrition you put into it. Stress can reduce gut motility, gastric juice production, is a risk factor for diseases like IBD and GERD and can even increase permeability of the gut.  In the short term, immediate stress can cause bloating, gas, constipation and diarrhea as anyone who has tried to eat a meal when feeling stressed can confirm.

It ages both our DNA & our outward appearance
Chronic stress can age us too! Researchers have found that stress can shorten telomeres (a structure on the ends of our chromosomes that affects how quickly our cells age). Telomere length is important because each time a cell divides the telomeres shorten and when they get to a certain length, the cell dies. Anything that shortens telomeres, increases the speed at which cells die, which is associated with aging and a shorter life. Here’s an easy to understand description of what telomeres are (if you’d like more details that I’m giving here).    Another reason stress may age us is because when we are stressed, we are more likely to take part in activities that can show visible signs of aging (as well as increase health risks), like smoking, drinking, not exercising or eating poorly. Or we may find it difficult to sleep and a lack of sleep absolutely makes us look tired and older.

Making changes in my own life
I’ve been neglecting this area in my own life. I exercise 5 or 6 days a week, eat whole organic foods from nature for about 90% of my diet (much of it fruits and vegetables) and yet I know I don’t spend nearly enough time managing stress. It’s ironic, as I spend my days helping my clients make goals around taking better care of themselves, including reducing their stress levels. I find that many of the women I work with are resistant to doing the recommendations we come up with that are designed to reduce stress.  When asked why, it’s usually “I’m too busy”, “I just didn’t have time.”  or “Something else was more important.”  Perhaps my clients are able to read my mind because I find myself sometimes thinking the same things.  For several months now, I’ve just been chalking that up to “This is how business owners feel” and figured I need to get used to it.  But I know that doesn’t have to be true and it’s certainly not something that I want to be true, especially since I work in a field where taking care of the whole person is the goal.

The worst part of me ignoring my stress levels is that I’m a health coach who has high blood pressure.  I’ve had it forever. I was diagnosed many many years ago and my dietary changes, supplement additions and even major weight loss (90 lbs at one time) have never resulted in lower readings. In my case, it’s caused by my genes – BUT I know better than anyone how much worse stress can make blood pressure issues no matter the cause.  It’s essential that I make reducing stress as important as my diet.

In 2015, I’m making a commitment to myself to do more to reduce my stress.  I haven’t worked out the specific details of when and how yet, but I’m committing to:
1. More quality meditation
2. More cups of herbal tea, hot water with lemon and apple cider vinegar
3. More regular dry brushing and time in the bath (with a good book).
4. Cutting back on my internet time when I’m not working (no more phones in bed!)
5. More breathing exercises
6.  Eating slower.  (on my busy days I find I’m wolfing meals in between tasks too fast)
7. Be more selective about how much “news” I allow in my life. It’s not that I want to be uninformed, but it’s not healthy to hear about nothing but bombings, kidnappings and hostage situations on a daily basis.

What can you commit to doing to reduce your stress? 

Some of you may feel it’s not something you need to work on because you don’t think you have a right to be stressed. Maybe you have a cushy job, maybe you have lot of free time, maybe finances aren’t something you have to worry about. Stress doesn’t just affect those who are at their wits end.  On the outside, it may look like you have the perfect life, but you might be perceiving serious stress or anxiety anyhow.  Some of us make our own stress (natural worrier? perfectionist?), some of us are sensitive and feel stress from the pressures other’s put on us and some have physical or situational stressors happening. It doesn’t matter where your stress is coming from or whether or not you think you have a “right” to feel the way you do, if you perceive stress and it’s affecting how you feel or perform, you can bet it’s affecting your health. I tend to make some of my own stress by putting pressures on myself. In some ways, that’s great because it helps me reach goals, but sometimes it can be stifling and silly to feel like I have to do something just because I set a goal. Sometimes goals can be chucked out the window if they no longer fit your needs, especially if the only reason you’re trying to meet it is because of a need to be perfect.  So, I’m a work in progress just like you.

I want to be able to help you relieve stress too so I’m working on some exciting stress relief related programs that will be released in the coming months, including a workshop, group programs and even an online meditation program that you can do from the comfort of home! I’m super excited about them. I’m absolutely not veering away from my focus on healthy cooking and the relationship we have with our bodies, mind and food but this is an important area that needs some attention, not just in my life, but in all of our lives.

If you want to be among the first to be notified when my these programs go live, make sure to get on my email list if you’re not already.  You can sign up in the green box at the bottom of this blog post (you’ll also get a download of my free eBook as a bonus). You can also become an active member of my Facebook community. I say “active” because Facebook only shows posts to those who comment/like on posts on a regular basis.

Let’s have a calmer, less stressed 2015 together.  xx