The Snack Solution

 
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Do you spend time wondering or worrying about snacking? Snacking is something that is necessary if you are indeed hungry and can be tricky if you struggle with emotional eating, stress eating or strong food cravings. Your body wants to be in balance. When you have a craving, it is a message from your body. (I have written about food cravings a good bit so I won’t go into the specifics here, but you can check out one on identifying food cravings here, emotional food cravings here and creating a three-step protocol to manage them effectively here.) The information here today is all about honoring your body, your cravings and allowing your relationship with food to find a healthy balance. 

Snacking can get a bad rep and can feel confusing as to what to snack on when you are truly hungry. Snacks are a great place to identify what your body is craving and why it is craving it. If you are able to identify that it is not an emotionally driven craving, then you will want to indeed have a snack. Once you have identified that you are hungry and in need of something to satiate and satisfy you, you can think about what you really want. What would be enjoyable and create health and wellbeing in both your mind and your body?

One important nutritional point—when it comes to snacking—is that in order to feel satiated for a longer period of time your snack needs to contain protein and fiber. The second important point is that your snack actually tastes good to you so feel truly satisfied. How often have you forced yourself to eat something dry, boring or unsatisfying in the name of dieting? Food is supposed to provide pleasure. You just don’t want it to be your only form of pleasure in your life! Try not to overthink snacking, just ensure that you are practicing mindful eating and remain aware of the impact of your food choices on your mind and body. 

As you find what foods allow your body to feel nourished, satisfied and healthy and at the same time allow your mind to feel at ease, you will embrace snacking in a way that feels good to you.

If you’re still not sure about what to eat, let’s break it down a little by taste and texture. You may prefer or crave something sweet, salty, creamy or crunchy. You might be craving something cold or warm or spicy.

Sweet and Nourishing Snacks

-fruit with granola and/or yogurt
-yogurt (just be sure to read the labels—sometimes yogurts contain a ton of excess added sugar) topped with diced fruit, granola, chia seeds, nuts…-granola (read the labels!)
-homemade power balls (delicious recipe below!)
-dates and nuts (stuff a date with a walnut or pecan and yum!)
-nut butters with fruit (apple or pear slices with almond, peanut or cashew butter…)
-chia pudding with nuts, seeds and/or topped with fruit

Salty, Crunchy and Nourishing

-veggies (cucumber, peppers, carrots, celery, broccoli, squash, zucchini…) and hummus or a salad dressing you enjoy
-nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds…)
-rice crackers and cheese
-kale chips (recipe below!)
-olives
-hard-boiled egg with diced red peppers, tomatoes and avocado with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt

No matter what you choose, allow yourself to eat it mindfully, enjoying the flavors, textures, aromas and derive the pleasure from eating that you deserve. When you are eating, allow yourself to remain in a nonjudgmental state. Do not label your food as good or bad based on calories, perception or otherwise, it is just food. You can always ask your food what is has to offer you, and so long as the decision is not emotionally based, eat and enjoy it!

Here are a couple of super healthy and delicious snack recipes to try, enjoy and make your own.

Happy snacking!

Recipes: 

Homemade Power Balls

 
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These power balls are super tasty, filling and contain both protein and fiber as well as many other energy providing nutrients. They appeal to a craving for something sweet and chocolatey with the tasty dates and cacao powder. You can also roll them in chia seeds, dried coconut or crushed nuts for a little crunch too! Try them and see what you think. I have been experimenting with a few combinations and this one is a delicious, nutritious and satisfying one for sure!

Ingredients: 

2 cups walnuts
1 cup dried, unsweetened coconut
¼ cup cashews
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 ½ cups medjool dates, pitted
¼ cup or so raw cacao powder

Optional: crushed nuts, chia seeds and shredded coconut to roll exterior for garnish and crunch

Directions:

1.    Using a high-powered blender or food processor, place walnuts, cashews and coconut together and blend for about 30 seconds or until well combined.
2.    Add in remaining ingredients EXCEPT the cacao and optional ingredients and blend until smooth, about 45 seconds.
3.    Be sure not to let the mixture get too warm--it can get a little drippy, if it does just let it cool for a bit before preparing.
4.    Scoop out a heaping teaspoon of the mixture and roll into balls.
5.    Once formed, roll into the cacao until covered. Roll into optional ingredients at this time as well.
6.    Line a container with parchment paper, adding rows on top with parchment paper between as needed.
7.    Place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before eating. Can be stored in the freezer as well! Usually they last for up to 5 days in a sealed container in the fridge or longer if in the freezer.

Makes about 20-24 power balls. Enjoy 2-3 balls as a healthy, satisfying snack.

Lime and Sea Salt Kale Chips

 
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Kale chips are a great, healthy option when you are wanting something crunchy and salty. This recipe has a hint of lime, making them extra delicious!

Ingredients:

1 bunch kale, stems removed and torn into bite size pieces
Drizzle of olive oil
Juice of ½ lime
Coarse sea salt, to taste
1 teaspoon sesame seeds

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 275F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
2. Toss kale in just enough olive oil for a light coating.
3. Sprinkle lime, sea salt and sesame seeds onto the Kale, lightly massaging them into kale.
4. Lay kale in a single layer on the lined cookie sheet and bake for about 15-20 minutes or unit crisp. (Check regularly in the last ten minutes, as kale chips can go from not-quite-done to overdone super quickly).
5. Eat immediately once cooled. Store any leftovers in an airtight container to keep them crisp for about 1-3 days.

If you give these recipes a try I’d love to hear what you think!

Spring Cleaning for Mind and Body

Wow, spring is finally here, and whether or not the weather has gotten the memo that winter is over, I am so ready for this new season. With the extended sunlight, do you feel a little energy building? With this renewed energy do you spend time spring cleaning your house, closets and clearing out old clutter? If you have a yard, do you spend time clearing away old leaves and brush and begin to prepare the soil for new bulbs, flowers and greenery? Most people gain momentum during the spring season to clean and clear their physical environments, which is great, but have you considered spending time to spring clean in mind, body and spirit?

 
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Whether it’s your physical environment or your physical body, residue builds and clutter stacks up higher and higher. Emotional clutter needs time to cleanse and clear just like the clutter and dust bunnies in your physical space. When you spend time cleansing and clearing in mind, body and spirit, you create the needed space to grow, to expand, to evolve—to plant new seeds within your heart and mind.

Here are some useful tools you can integrate to help clear away the clutter of physical and emotional residue that may be lingering on from the cold, grey winter.

  1. Journaling

Let’s start with mental clearing. I find one of the most useful and accessible tools for mental and emotional release is journaling. You might prefer to read on and then come back to these prompts, but if you know you may put it off and never do it, take a moment right now to get out your journal, a notebook or something else to write on and a writing utensil and complete these prompts right now!

Spend time pondering the following self-reflection prompts to help clear your mind of any residual clutter from the seemingly never-ending winter. Letting go and clearing any lingering emotional discomfort will allow you to create room for mental and emotional space for what will serve you moving forward. Without the space to create what you want you will remain stuck in what you already know. Self-reflection is one of the most powerful ways to motivate yourself and create a new, healthy mindset towards the change you desire.

·      What stands in the way of living my most healthy life?

·      What roadblocks are currently in the way of living my best life and being the version of myself—and how can I begin to address each roadblock?

·      What would my life look like if I were being guided by my desire to make my vision my reality?

·      What difficult circumstances did I have to manage this winter?

·      What residual emotions from the winter do I need to release, to let go of, once and for all and how can I do this in a healthy, productive manner?

·      What do I need to let go of in order to move forward with more peace of mind on a daily basis?

2. Breathing

The second tool you can you use to clear your body and the mind is your breath. (If you missed my recent blog about the power of your breath, you can catch it here!) A form of breathing that will cleanse and clear your mind and body is called the bellow’s breath. It is a stimulating breathing practice, so it’s ideal to practice it in the early to mid-part of the day, not in the evenings. It’s always best to practice with the support of an instructor if it is brand new for you. (This particular breath is not suited for anyone who’s had recent abdominal surgery or who has untreated high blood pressure, anxiety or if you are pregnant.) If you give it a whirl and dislike anything about it, there is no need to do it! Just doing a diaphragmatic breathing practice can help to rid your body of excess stress hormones and your mind of excess stressful thoughts. The second breathing practice described below is a calming, grounding breath that is balancing, clearing and suitable for all.

+Bellow’s breath: Inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose, keeping your mouth closed and relaxed. Each inhale and exhale are equal in duration, but as short as possible. You are “pumping” your navel center and building energy with this breath, creating a cleansing of mind, body and energy. This is a noisy breathing exercise, almost like a dog panting on a warm day. Try for approximately three in-and-out breath cycles per second, and aim for about ten breaths at time to begin. This produces a quick movement of your diaphragm, just like a bellows. Return to your normal breathing rhythm after each cycle. Do not do for more than 15 seconds on your first try as it can cause some dizziness. Again, if it is at all uncomfortable, there is no need to continue. Each time you practice this exercise, you can increase your time by five seconds or so, until you reach a full minute. If done properly, you will feel invigorated, comparable to the heightened awareness you feel after a refreshing workout.

+So-Hum breath: as you inhale, feel your abdomen expand and say “so” in your mind, as you exhale, draw your navel in towards your spine and say “hum” in your mind. Continue for at least one minute, but feel free to go longer. This “so-hum” breath will help to focus your attention and quiet your mind.

3. Nutrition

This last portion is all about spring cleaning for your physical body. One of my favorite ways to do this is adding in more bitter flavors, which is always available with fresh leafy greens! Here’s my favorite green drink recipe that is cleansing, refreshing and I think super delicious!

When you try it, let me know what you think. If you tweak it to make it your own, let me know what changes you find to be delicious, I love trying new variations on old recipes!

Spring Cleaning Green Drink Recipe

Serves 2: because health is best when you share it!

2 peeled cucumbers

½ cup fresh chopped pineapple

2 cups of leafy greens such as spinach, kale, chard, dandelion greens chopped

1-2 stalks of celery diced

1 inch of fresh peeled ginger root chopped

1 tablespoon hemp hearts

juice of half of a lime

½ cup filtered water or coconut water, may need more to blend to desired consistency

Blend all ingredients together and add more or less of your favorites to taste

ENJOY!!

When you try these cleansing practices, let me know how they work for you! Know that you are clearing mental and emotional space to move forward, building energy to feel well, live well and be well.

5 Natural Ways to Brighten the Winter Blues

 
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Are you feeling as though this winter will just never end? If so, you are not alone. Here in NYC it’s cold and we’ve had a lot of rainy days. So many of us can identify with the experience of having the winter blues. The winter blues often create low motivation and stagnancy, you just don’t feel like doing much or getting much done. The winter blues can feel as though your energy is zapped, causing you to not engage in many of the elements that tend to actually make you feel good. To me, it’s no surprise that many of us experience times of feeling down in the winter. After the activity and hubbub of the holidays, it’s common to feel more isolated because of the cold, the reduced daylight hours and often more dreary weather.

The good news is that there are some simple, natural strategies that you can incorporate all winter long to help you beat the winter blues. Use these strategies to create your own ray of sunshine on any given day.

1.    On Sunny Days, Expose Your Skin to Light for 10-15 Minutes

2.    Eat Naturally Mood-Lifting Foods

3.    Practice Saying “YES” to Yourself

4.    Move Your Body

5.    Start (or Maintain!) a Mindfulness Practice

1. On Sunny Days, Expose Your Skin to Light for 10-15 Minutes

This first strategy encourages receiving some sun exposure whenever it’s possible. When sunlight is exposed to our eyes and our skin, the brain is alerted to wake up and feel more energized. Exposure to sunlight can help you feel more mentally sharp and positive. Every day that the sun is shining, be sure to get outside and turn your face to the sun for about ten to fifteen minutes. If it’s not too freezing cold, you can certainly hang out in the sun even longer (although don’t overexpose without sunscreen!) If you can’t get outside, take a few moments to at least let the sun hit your eye balls. A full spectrum light box can be another option, although there is a cost associated with this tool, it does offer the full spectrum of light and helps improve mood and mental energy. 

2. Eat Naturally Mood-Lifting Foods

The second strategy has to do with improving your mood through food. The food-mood connection is super strong. Nutrients that support energy and healthy brain function all help to create the best opportunity for your mood to be in a balanced and positive space on a daily basis. When you are eating these healthy, mood supporting nutrient dense foods, factors such as the temperature, weather or time of year can feel as thought they are less of a downer! Some of the nutrients known to improve the functioning of your brain and improve mood are Omega-3 Fatty Acids, B-Vitamins, Vitamin C, Tryptophan, Vitamin K and Protein. Here is a brain power smoothie recipe that incorporates many of these nutrients in one power-packed delicious drink!

Brain Power Smoothie Recipe:

1 cup frozen or fresh blueberries
½ ripe banana
1 heaping teaspoon raw cacao powder
1 tablespoon ground flax seed
1-2 cups loosely packed fresh kale (or spinach/favorite leafy green)
1 cup plain unsweetened coconut or almond milk
1 serving unsweetened protein powder of your choice

Blend all ingredients together until smooth and enjoy!!

 
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3. Practice Saying “YES” to Yourself

During the winter months there are often many things to do, places to go and people to see. One of the most powerful things you can do for yourself is to learn to say YES to yourself, meaning that you may have to say NO to others. If you find you need to preserve your energy, do it. You do not have to do all the things all the time. When you practice saying YES to yourself—to what you want and need—you will build more energy and stamina for the things you actually do want and need to do. When you practice saying YES to YOU, you are caring for yourself. This will build feelings of empowerment to make your own decision and choices for your life. As you continue to practice saying YES to YOU, you will improve your mood state and your energy. Finding the right balance between activity and rest for you will allow you to feel refreshed, motivated and energized.

4. Move Your Body

Movement and exercise have consistently been shown to improve mood. Really, exercise is valuable for a long list of reasons. But the one benefit alone of improving mood is enough to make it happen and to make it happen consistently. The second part of this is the kicker: consistency! When it is gray, dark and cold, you may not feel like going out for a walk or going to the gym. That’s ok because you don’t have to feel like it but you still need to do it. Focusing on how you feel after you exercise can be motivation to help you get your body moving. If you really just don’t want to go to the gym or go outside on a cold or damp day, do something indoors. Try yoga, dancing to your favorite music, light weight training, jumping jacks, plank pose and/or squats. You see, the movement doesn’t need to be anything fancy and it doesn’t even have to be for a really long time, you just need to do it in some form or another nearly every single day.  Try incorporating regular movement into your day and notice the impact it has on your mood, energy, stress and sleep. When you focus on the benefits, the motivation will follow.

5. Start a Mindfulness Practice

Mindfulness has been shown to improve mood as well as your perspective on life’s challenges. Mindfulness is paying attention from moment to moment with a nonjudgmental awareness. When you are being mindful, you are fully engaged in the present moment. When you are being mindful you are fully engaged with what is true right now. When you are in a space of non-judgment and self-awareness, you are able to create a healthy perspective of the present moment. When you are present and engaged, you are able to notice your mood state and have an impact on it in a way that is healthy. Mindfulness allows you to evaluate the veracity of your mood and your thoughts.

Try starting with just one minute of being as mindfully present as possible. Set a timer for one minute, and for that minute attempt to focus on the rhythm of your breath. When you notice that your mind is wandering (and know that it definitely will!), guide your focus back to your breath. This is the practice. You are not trying to silence your mind, but to bring your focus back to your breath when your mind wanders. You can increase the amount of time by a minute every other day until you reach five, ten, fifteen, twenty minutes. The amount of time is not as important as doing it consistently and with effort. There are great apps out there to assist with the process. I personally like Insight Timer, but use any that you like and find to be helpful for you.

Try incorporating these five simple, natural strategies to improve your mood and you may find that the winter is not so blue after all.