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!

Focusing on Nutrient Density within Your Personalized Approach to Wellness

Eating in a way that supports nutrient density means that you are taking in a wide variety of nutrients with every meal. Our bodies are designed to function on nutrition and require nutrients for each and every cell in our bodies to function optimally. The food you eat literally becomes your cells, tissues and organs. This makes it pretty important to take in a healthy dose of nutrients every meal every single day.

The essential nutrients that our bodies need to function optimally are fiber, vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates and fat. I also feel that taste is a nutrient, if your food does not appeal to you it most likely won’t make you feel as good as if you were choosing foods that actually bring you some pleasure and satisfaction along with the nutrients. When you focus on foods that are nutrient dense, meaning they contain several of the nutrients listed, you are nourishing your body as it is meant to be nourished.

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This is where eating a variety of colorful veggies comes in! Vegetables are loaded with nutrients necessary for our bodies to function in optimal condition. There is a ton of research surrounding the benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables daily. The field of nutrition can be challenging to follow in terms of what to eat, what not to eat and even when to eat it. It seems what’s considered the healthiest way to eat one day is proven to cause an early death the next! However, there are no dietary theories out there that say don’t eat your veggies, so this is where you can start with confidence. With time and attention on your body, you can create a personalized approach to nutrition focusing on nutrient density and enjoyment.

Creating a personalized approach to nutrition is the healthiest and the most sustainable way to create a nutritional plan. You are the expert on your body and only you can determine how different foods make you feel. One thing we all can do is spend some time evaluating the foods we choose to eat. With each choice you make, you can ask the food “what do you have to offer me?” If it can tick off several of the nutritional boxes and it makes your body feel good, then it’s most likely a good choice. For example, if you are about to eat an apple, asking it this question provides the answer of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and fiber. That’s a pretty good nutritional profile! Then ask, “does this taste good to me and does it make my body feel good after I’ve eaten it?” If the answer is yes, most likely that’s a great choice. If you ask a donut what it has to offer, it doesn’t have quite the same response as an apple! That does not necessarily mean that you don’t eat the donut, but you might ask yourself why you are eating the donut. If you are an emotional eater, you just want to be certain the choice is not emotionally based, as the donut will not satisfy your needs and you will be searching for the next way to squash your feelings with food over and over again.

Food is powerful. It provides our lives with pleasure and fuel. When we are eating in the right balance for our individual bodies, it has the power to heal and to create a life of vitality. Every time you ask your food what it has to offer you and the majority of the time it can answer with a few nutrients, you are on your way to creating a healthy body and healthy mind. This is not about perfection, it is about empowering yourself to make the choices that align with your personal health and wellness goals. This is about creating the healthy mind and body that you desire.

BREATHE

 
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Whether or not you are breathing is a deciding factor as to whether or not you are alive. Breath is life. Your breath works as a part of an automatic response within your body, meaning, you will breathe whether or not you are thinking about it. The cool thing is, if you bring your breath into your conscious awareness and under your conscious control, you create the opportunity to control your nervous system.

The pace, rhythm and direction of your breath all directly point to your mood state, mental state and can trigger your nervous system towards causing stress or a state of relaxation within your nervous system. There are two major elements of the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic nervous system, or the mode of fight or flight or freeze and the parasympathetic nervous system, the mode of rest and digest. Ideally, unless of course there is a true emergency, we all want to live in rest and digest mode.

The importance of engaging the parasympathetic nervous system response, or remaining in rest and digest mode most of the time is well documented. You see, stress is the cause of upwards of 90% of illness. The stress response as you experience it in your mind and body can be caused by something stressful that is actually happening, or it can be caused by just by thinking about something happening that is distressing. The good news is we can do something about the latter—when the stress response is triggered by our thoughts. This something is super simple and is absolutely free of charge. This something is using your breath.

When you take ahold of your breath, you can take ahold of your whole nervous system. You can calm your mind and body and reconnect to what is true right now, rather than what is occurring in your mind that is creating a fearful, stressful response within your mind and body. Your body does not know the difference between the real or perceived stressors and will respond accordingly to either. When you find that you are catastrophizing and creating the stress response within your body, you can bring the process of breathing into your focus by slowing down each inhale and each exhale and calm your mind in the process.

Breathing diaphragmatically engages the parasympathetic nervous system response. Try this, place one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest. As you breathe, notice which hand is moving. You are not judging your breathing process. You are simply noticing your breath in order to improve your ability to calm your mind/body. If your hand on your chest is moving but your hand on your abdomen is not moving (meaning your chest is expanding as you inhale), you are paradoxically breathing. This type of breathing can come about by feeling as though you have to suck in your stomach all the time, and it can actually cause you to go into fight or flight mode. Yikes!

If this is how you generally breathe, don’t fret! You can change how you breathe right now! You can practice diaphragmatic breathing in order for it to become your new method of breathing. To diaphragmatically breathe, allow your abdomen to expand into your hand as you inhale and allow the hand on your chest to remain relatively still. As you exhale, draw your navel in towards your spine. Allow this to become your new pattern of breathing—abdomen expanding as you inhale, navel drawing in towards your spine as you exhale.

When you breathe in this manner you are creating an opportunity to calm your nervous system in the here and the now. By allowing your attention to rest on your breath, not in your stressful, repetitive thoughts, you ease your body of the excess cortisol and adrenaline produced by your stressful thoughts. In the moment you recognize that you are feeling stressed within your body due to a thought or perception, rather than an actual stressful occurrence, try this process of connecting with your breath. Breathe diaphragmatically, slowly and deeply. Begin to slow down each inhale and each exhale. Focus on your exhale and allow just a slight pause at the end of your exhale and at the top of your inhale. Follow your breath with your mind. Notice the sensation of your breath against your nostrils. Notice the cooling, calming impact of your breath as you inhale and the warm, soothing impact of your breath as you exhale. 

When you focus on your breath you create an opportunity to become fully engaged in the present moment, the only moment. When you are fully engaged in the present moment you create the opportunity to live your life right as it is unfolding, rather than in the anxiety of the future or wishing for a different past. Your breath is your link, it is your powerful anchor to the present moment. Use it. Be aware of it. Allow it to create the transformation of your nervous system that is possible. Be here now, be aware of your breath and allow stress to no longer rule your life, your body and your mood state.

If you’d like some guidance on how to breathe, you can listen to my 5-minute guided diaphragmatic breathing practice here in the resources section of my website. Has changing your breath changed your life? I’d love to hear how using your breath to manage stress has impacted your life for the better!