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Please Pass the Protein

Protein, protein, protein. There’s no doubt about it, protein is the macronutrient du jour. People everywhere are following high-protein diets and singing its praises, such as increased muscle mass and weight loss, which has landed this macronutrient squarely in the spotlight. But do we really know what we’re talking about when it comes to protein? And is there such a thing as consuming too much protein? Let’s explore this macronutrient a little and try to carve out some clarity.

 

Besides contributing to weight loss and preserving muscle mass, protein makes up the building blocks of your hair, nails, hormones, and blood — the cells of which break down and rebuild themselves all day, every day. It also helps to build and repair muscles, organs, tissues, and bones, and it plays an important role regulating blood sugar. In other words, it’s super important! Yes, most everyone should include quality protein at each meal.

 

The recommended daily intake (RDI) for protein is 46 grams for sedentary women and 56 grams for sedentary men. A more specific recommendation is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight (0.36 x body weight = recommended grams of protein per day), but this still doesn’t take into account your activity level and what your goals for your health are. Do you want to gain weight? Lose weight? Build more lean muscle? Depending on how active you are and who you ask, many people believe the recommended daily intake for protein is far too low; personal trainers in particular may suggest up to 100 grams of protein per day for a really active individual with some serious fitness goals (note: NOT somebody sitting in front of a computer all day). So you can see there’s lots of wiggle room within “expert recommendations.” As always, the question of how much protein your own body needs is going to be unique to you, and it will likely take some experimentation to discover what amount is ideal for you.

 

Protein Sources

While most of us immediately think of meat when we hear the word “protein,” there are actually lots of different protein-rich foods. While meat might be the most common protein-source in the United States and widely promoted as the most useable form of protein for our bodies, there’s also protein in eggs, fish, dairy, whole grains, beans, soy, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and in things like protein bars and protein powders.

 

Here’s a short list of protein content for some common foods you may already be eating. If you briefly reviewed what you ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the last couple days right now, you could probably do a quick tally of your average protein intake for each day:

 

½ cup oats = 13 grams protein

1 cup quinoa = 8 grams protein

1 large egg = 6 grams protein

½ cup lentils = 9 grams protein

1 cup black beans = 39 grams protein

3 oz salmon = 21 grams protein

3 oz chicken = 23 grams protein

1 chicken breast = 53 grams protein

¼ cup almonds = 6 grams protein

1 cup whole milk = 8 grams protein

6 oz Greek yogurt = 17 grams protein

1 cup cottage cheese = 27 grams protein

2 Tbsp chia seeds = 4 grams protein

1 oz pumpkin seeds = 5 grams protein

1 cup broccoli = 3 grams protein

½ cup tofu = 10 grams protein

protein shakes = 20-35 grams protein per shake, varying widely depending on the brand and protein source – check the label for accuracy.

 

As you can see, it’s not very hard for most of us to consume enough protein.

 

In fact, it’s important to know you can consume too much protein, just like you can eat too much fat and too many carbohydrates. Excess protein in the body is related to several health concerns, such as constipation, bad breath, low blood sugar, dehydration, and kidney damage, especially if you follow a high-protein diet for an extended period of time. It can also lead to weight gain, which can feel puzzling to people since protein is promoted almost exclusively as a weight loss tool. But yes, excess protein is usually stored as fat, just as all excessive calories we consume will be stored as fat.

 

Speaking of excessive consumption, it’s worth noting that even though nuts are a protein source they are primarily a fat, and they are extremely dense in calories. Yes, they can be a healthful food, but they can also cause weight gain if we allow ourselves to go too “nuts on nuts.” If weight loss is one of your goals, be sure to become familiar with portion sizes for nuts.

 

Quality

Protein is not just about quantity; it’s also about quality. I am especially passionate about the quality of animal protein people consume. I promote organic, pasture-raised, 100% grassfed meat, poultry, and other animal products free of added growth hormones and antibiotics. I also promote wild-caught fish. Believe me, I know these foods are more expensive, but the benefits to our health and the health of the animals and our environment are more than worth it.

 

If you choose to buy animal products from farmers who raised their animals organically on pasture, you can rest assured that those animals enjoyed good health and the nutrients in that product will translate to your own health. You can also know that the production of that food is part of a system that builds healthy soil for generations to come and contributes to a healthy planet and food system. Everybody wins.

 

If you choose to buy products that come from animals who were raised in a conventional or factory farm environment, it’s important to know those animals consumed antibiotics in their feed for the duration of their lifetime to keep them from constantly being sick, which you will then ingest when you eat that product. (In fact, 80% of the antibiotics that humans consume in their lifetimes come from the meat they eat.) You will also be ingesting added growth hormones, which were used to help that animal grow larger, and unfortunately, you will be consuming meat that is lower in nutrition because that animal was raised on a diet in an environment (inside) that is completely unnatural to that animal.

 

To be clear, the protein content remains the same no matter which product you choose, but the quality and nutrient density of that protein varies widely, and that has a profound difference on your health.

 

Conclusion

I’m committed to sharing information about both plant-based protein and animal protein. I will simply encourage you to experiment with different proteins to discover what works best for your body at this time in your life. If you are a heavy meat eater and have been for a while, I encourage you to experiment with more plant-based sources for a couple months and see how you feel, especially if you are overweight. Honestly, most people I work with could use more plant-based foods in their diets. On the other hand, if you are underweight or have been a vegetarian for a while and you’re noticing some trends with your health that concern you, it may be time to experiment with small amounts of animal protein or different types of protein in your diet. I know this is easier said than done, and I respect everyone’s feelings about meat. I trust that through experimentation you will be able to successfully guide yourself in finding the right life-affirming, energy-producing protein sources for you.

September: Turning Inward, Getting Grounded

For many of us, September signals a return to routine and order in our lives. Vacations are wrapped up, kids go back to school, and the hustle of summer slows to a more tempered pace. Schedules become more consistent, and ever so slowly, we turn increasingly inward as the days grow shorter and the dark days of winter creep closer.

This shift in lifestyle and seasons carries over into our diet, too, especially if we are drawn to eating with the seasons. Tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and beans – the stars of summer– give way to root vegetables and starchier vegetables like beets, potatoes, squashes, pumpkins, and onions. These nutrient-dense veggies, higher in healthful carbohydrates and natural sugars, can provide a helpful energy lift during the fall and winter when our own energy levels tend to dip and drag. Summer berries are replaced with apples and pears, delicious storage fruits bursting with long-lasting energy. As our hours of available daylight wane, our bodies rely heavily on food and sleep for energy rather than the solar power we received from the summer’s sun.

We may also notice another round of cool-weather greens showing up at farmers’ markets and in our CSA deliveries, a timely opportunity to naturally detox our livers before we dive headfirst into the heavier, fattier foods that magically appear with winter (and especially the holidays). It’s not uncommon to feel drawn to cook again, sometimes after months of not wanting to be in the kitchen all summer. Take some time to notice how your desires and habits change with the onset of fall. What does your body want? What tastes especially delicious?

Whatever you do, I encourage you to get out and relish this beautiful season! Visit apple orchards or squash and pumpkin farms. One treasure we have in Minnesota is the Apple House in Victoria, part of the University of Minnesota’s Landscape Arboretum. There you can browse dozens of varieties of Minnesota apples and hundreds of varieties of squash, all grown organically. Scout out some new delights and try a new recipe. While you’re there, take a walk through the arboretum and witness the spectacle of fall colors on display. The Apple House is open through the end of November: http://www.arboretum.umn.edu/applehouse.aspx

Breakfast: What Wonder Woman Eats

What’s for breakfast? Cereal? Low-fat yogurt? A single hard-boiled egg? If breakfast is an afterthought or a meal that happens by accident (if it happens at all), I hope I can help you rethink your morning and shift your routine from eating-on-the-run to fueling-up for the long haul.

Whoever first said, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” knew what she was talking about. Sure, in our fast-paced world where many people wake up feeling like they are already behind, it’s not always easy to prioritize breakfast, but beginning your day with a nutrient-dense breakfast suited to your body is a linchpin far too important to omit. A solid breakfast provides both children and adults with:

• Stable blood sugar
• A happy, revved-up metabolism
• Solid, stable energy for 4-5 hours at a pop
• Mental clarity and focus
• Improved memory
• A greater sense of well-being and emotional stability

Imagine a day when you aren’t dealing with blood sugar crashes (aka, “the hangries), moodiness, mental fogginess, or sluggishness. Dreamy, right? It’s all yours if you set your day in motion with good fuel.

Breakfast sets the tone for your entire day.

Eating a breakfast right for you is going to change your life. But here’s the catch: you may have to experiment a bit to figure out what that is. Every body is different, even if just a little bit. Some people need more protein in the morning, others more fat. (For the record, nobody needs more sugar.) So consider trying on some breakfasts as if you were trying on shoes; see what fits and feels good.

Ideas:

• 1-2 cups vegetables sautéed in olive oil or butter with an organic egg or two. My favorite veggies right now: onions, garlic scapes, broccoli, and kale); add a dollop of aioli if you really want a treat.
• a vegetable/fruit smoothie that’s heavy on the veggies and light on the fruit. Try for 2/3 veggies like zucchini, cucumbers, kale, or spinach and 1/3 fruit. Add a plant-based protein powder like Vega One to keep you full longer.
• 2-3 Tablespoons chia seeds soaked in ½-3/4 cup coconut milk, almond milk, or yogurt. Add fresh berries, nuts and seeds, shredded coconut, and cacao nibs for a superfood, antioxidant-rich start to your day.

Sometimes a rock star breakfast doesn’t look anything like a typical breakfast. Last night’s leftovers of roasted chicken and vegetables would probably make an excellent start to the day. Sweet potato and Brussels sprouts paired with organic sausage might seem weird at first but will probably keep you full and focused for five hours.

Here’s another go-to recipe of mine. I believe it first came from The Splendid Table on NPR. I’ll make it on Sunday so it’s ready to go for the week:

Cauliflower Kuku Yield: 4 generous servings

Kuku is a type of open-faced omelet similar to the Italian frittata and the Arab eggah. Filled with vegetables and herbs, a good kuku should be thick and rather fluffy. A frittata pan, consisting of two interlinking pans that fit one on top of the other, is perfect for making a kuku—a regular pan will also be fine; you will just have to cook the top under the broiler for a couple of minutes. (I use my cast iron pan.)
One of the best things about kukus is that they can be eaten hot or at room temperature, and they keep very well in the fridge for up to 4 days.

1/2 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 small head cauliflower, cut up into florets and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 Tablespoon rice flour or potato starch
1/2 cup goat-milk cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 400 ̊F. Heat 1/4 cup oil in a medium-sized, ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, cauliflower, salt, pepper, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, and parsley, and stir-fry for 4-5 minutes, or until the cauliflower is soft. Meanwhile, break the eggs into a mixing bowl, add the remaining ingredients and whisk lightly. Pour kuku mixture into the skillet and give it a quick stir using a rubber spatula. Reduce heat to low, flatten the surface of the kuku, and pour the remaining oil around the edges. Cook for 4 minutes. Transfer the skillet to the preheated oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned and coming away from the skillet. Remove the skillet from the oven, cut into wedges, and serve with fresh herbs and yogurt.

Just remember, breakfast isn’t going to make itself. It’s going to take planning and a little extra time to succeed. But I promise, if you muster up 15 minutes to feed yourself and the will to try something new, you just might experience what it feels like to be Wonder Woman or Superman: strong and unstoppable.

In love & service,

Claudine

P.S. As always, I’d love for you to leave a comment below. I’m always curious about what you’re thinking, and I’ll always respond.

Delicious, Nutritious Dining

Who likes to eat out? Me too. That’s why I’m excited to sing the praises of some restaurants here in Minnesota that make it possible to relax and enjoy some time away from the kitchen without sacrificing quality or nutrition.

Minnesota has a top-notch food scene. Between our community of farmers committed to quality and sustainability and our chef and restaurant community who value those farmers and choose to work with them, we have access to some of the best food in the country – and that’s not an exaggeration.

Home cooking is important for health because it’s only when we prepare food ourselves that we know exactly what went into that food. But all of us want a break from chopping and standing over the stove; that’s when having high-quality dining options come in handy.

Here are some of my favorites:

At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Café, Duluth
Birchwood Café, Minneapolis
Brasa, Minneapolis & St. Paul
French Meadow Bakery & Café, Minneapolis, St. Paul, MSP airport and others
La Ferme, Alexandria
Ngon Vietnamese Bistro, St. Paul
Pizzeria Lola, Minneapolis
Sassy Spoon, Minneapolis (an entirely gluten-free restaurant)
Sen Yai Sen Lek, Minneapolis
Tillie’s Farmhouse, St. Paul
Tonic, Rochester
Wise Acre Eatery, South Minneapolis

I could tell you a story about each of these restaurants or cafes and the farmers they work with, and I guarantee you would feel inspired and buoyed by their commitment to good food. Birchwood Cafe alone works with over 40 nearby farmers. Imagine the impact owner Tracy Singleton is having on their livelihoods! Sen Yai Sen Lek, a mouthwatering Thai restaurant in Northeast Minneapolis, sources as much product as possible from a collective of immigrant farmers named Big River Farms, all of whom are learning how to earn a living here in Minnesota. These stories are a reminder that where we spend our money matters.

I hope you enjoy these suggestions. To the best of our ability, let’s always try to fill our bellies with good nutrition, even when we’re out on the town. Deal?

Where are your favorite quality places to dine out? Who did I miss? There are so many! Let’s start a conversation and share our resources with one another.

In love & service,

Claudine

P.S. As always, I’d love for you to leave a comment below. I’m always curious about what you’re thinking, and I’ll always respond.

The Big Deal about CSA’s – Community Supported Agriculture

Invitation: Transform your kitchen into a wellness center with local, fresh, delicious food from a CSA – Community Supported Agriculture – this summer.

Though it’s not here just yet, I imagine you’re starting to daydream about summer, a season that brings energy, activity, and ample opportunities to indulge in locally-produced, hyper-fresh food. There’s something so special about delicate, just-harvested spring greens in May or a perfectly sun-ripened heirloom tomato in August; it’s as if you can taste the sunshine and warmth in these foods. So I have a fun idea to propose to you: why not shake up your grocery shopping habits this summer and try buying directly from some of Minnesota’s dedicated farmers instead? (Or try buying from a farmer from your state if you don’t live in Minnesota.)

 

Many small Minnesota farms are CSAs, which stands for “Community Supported Agriculture.” “Members,” (you – the shopper/enthusiastic eater), buy into a farm in exchange for a weekly or bi-monthly delivery of assorted produce. (Some also offer meat or eggs.) Joining a CSA is undoubtedly one of the most impactful upgrades you can make to your life. Here are a few reasons why:

 

  • Joining a CSA promotes diversity in one’s diet. When we’re getting our food from the grocery store, we tend to walk down the same aisles every week and fill our carts with virtually the same foods each time. Conversely, if we’re getting a weekly delivery of whatever is in season that week, our food changes routinely and effortlessly. This is really good for us; dietary diversity is essentially another form of health insurance.
  • Local foods are fresher. Buying locally cuts down travel time from farm to table, preserving essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. (Studies show 50% of vitamin C was lost in broccoli shipped from out of the country and 47% of folate was lost in spinach within 8 days of being harvested.) Fresher foods give us more bang per bite.
  • Local foods are in season. This translates into peak deliciousness alongside peak nutrient density. Tomatoes boast that deep red color, flavor, and texture that makes them real tomatoes. Winter tomatoes are such an inadequate substitutes, aren’t they?
  • Local foods are better for the environment. Some foods are shipped literally thousands of miles across the world; that is a big carbon footprint that could be avoided by supporting our neighbors instead.
  • CSAs preserve green space and farmland.
  • CSAs are economical. Most CSAs deliver a bushel of produce a week, and the price point for this organic, uber-fresh food is typically lower than at the coops.

 

Feeling inspired? Here are a few of my favorite CSAs in Minnesota:

www.springhillcommunityfarm.com (my CSA :)

www.untiedtswegrowforyou.com

www.featherstonefarm.com

www.loonorganics.com

www.mazopiya.com

 

You can also search for a CSA near you at:

www.localharvest.org

www.minnesotagrown.org

 

In love & service,

Claudine

 

P.S. As always, I’d love for you to leave a comment below. I’m always curious about what you’re thinking, and I’ll always respond.

Boost Your Internal Sunshine – Vitamin D

Feeling exhausted and blue these winter months? How’s your vitamin D? Perhaps it’s time to take stock of this vital vitamin and tap into its healing powers.

 

For far too long vitamin D was the most underrated nutrient in the world of nutrition. We paid very little attention to this powerhouse, which resulted in widespread deficiencies and varied physical, mental, and emotional struggles for many. Thank goodness we now know just how important this single vitamin is – a vitamin which is actually a hormone made from a reaction between our bodies and the sun. A hormone! And we all know by now that hormones are nothing to mess around with.

 

The benefits of  vitamin D are virtually endless, which can make it sound a bit suspicious and something of a cure-all. There’s certainly much more to creating health for ourselves than simply bumping up this single vitamin, but it’s a logical, smart place to start if you’re not feeling like your best, most vibrant self. Optimal vitamin D levels help prevent fatigue, osteoporosis, depression, as many as eighteen different types of cancer, influenza, Alzheimers, and hormonal imbalances, including those that contribute to PMS, sex hormone imbalances, and infertility. Research also shows that vitamin D may help prevent autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, lupus, type I diabetes, and Hashimoto’s. Vitamin D boosts and regulates the immune system, helps regulate insulin signaling, and calms down chronic inflammation. Again, it may not be a cure-all, but I wouldn’t hesitate to call it a superhero in the vitamin-hormone world.

 

Here are some additional interesting tidbits about our vitamin superhero:

  • For 1/2 the year vitamin D is free because your body makes it when sunlight touches your skin; however, from October – April we make little or no vitamin D due to the sun’s angle, especially in Northern latitudes (like Minnesota, where I live). Perhaps this is why so many of us crave a warm weather getaway mid-winter; we’re craving a vitamin D boost. Most people can benefit from supplementation in winter. I like “Vitamin D Complete” by Nutricology and Isotonix Vitamin D with K2 for those people who are tired of swallowing pills and would prefer a liquid.
  • The further you live from the equator, the more sun exposure you need to generate vitamin D. Most U.S. states (certainly Minnesota) are considered far from the equator, which is why deficiencies run rampant here.
  • Additionally, the darker your skin is the more exposure you need to generate vitamin D – about twenty to thirty times the exposure, in fact. Deficiencies among African-Americans are dangerously widespread.
  • Chronic vitamin D deficiency can’t be reversed overnight; it typically takes months of supplementation and sun exposure to rebuild the body’s stores, but it’s not hard to do and is well worth the effort. It just takes some follow-through.
  • If you’ve been taking supplemental vitamin D for several months and are not seeing an improvement in your levels, you may need to add in some supplemental magnesium, which helps with absorption.
  • An overloaded or stressed liver may also impair one’s ability to produce vitamin D. There are many ways to support one’s liver, including easing off alcohol, sugar, and fried foods, eating more leafy greens and plant foods, and taking supportive liver supplement like milk thistle.
  • Vitamin D is critical for strong bones and muscles.
  • It’s very difficult to get adequate vitamin D through food. Most foods, unless fortified, are poor sources, and fortified foods are often processed foods and not the best for us anyway. This is why sunlight exposure is so important. Cod liver oil, sardines, and salmon are the best food sources.

 

Do you know if you’re getting enough vitamin D?

 

It may surprise you to learn that many doctors still do not automatically test for this vitamin-hormone. This shocks the daylights out of me given how beneficial it is. So this may very well be a test that you need to ask for. Don’t be shy about asking. It’s a simple test to add to your next round of bloodwork. Ideally you want your levels to fall between 55-80 ng/ml. Conventional medicine may tell you that 30 ng/ml is sufficient. I disagree. While it may be “sufficient” in terms of meeting a bare minimum requirement and preventing rickets in children, it’s certainly not optimal. Why not go for optimal?

 

Lastly, I encourage my clients who have struggled with deficiencies to get their levels tested both in the late summer or fall – sometime around September or October – and then again in the spring, preferably around April. This will give you a pretty good idea of how well your body produced vitamin D throughout the summer months (assuming you spent time outdoors), and then where your levels fall after winter.

 

Spring is on it’s way, but it’s not here yet. February and March can be tough months for a lot of us. We’re antsy. We’re ready for spring and the freedom to be more active, but we’re not yet feeling energized because of our lingering dark, gray days. I know I’m already craving the feeling of having my hands in the dirt and the smell of compost around me, but sadly these things are still a couple of months away. Vitamin D won’t help usher in spring any more quickly, that’s for sure, but it will help light you up from the inside. I know that for a fact.

 

In love & service,

Claudine

 

P.S. As always, I’d love for you to leave a comment below. I’m always curious about what you’re thinking, and I’ll always respond.

Let Today Be New – How to Seamlessly Build New Habits

Last week I posted a beautiful image and invitation on my Facebook page from an artist who sends out a simple, reflective message or affirmation each week. Her business is called The Studio Project, and this one said:

“Let today be new.”

 

While I usually like her messages, I was especially smitten by this one – how friendly, open, and optimistic it feels: Let today be new.

Some of you might read that statement and think, “Duh. That’s obvious. Every day IS new.”

 

And that’s true. Every day is its very own blank slate, and many of us probably feel (or perhaps the more accurate word is “assume?”) that we treat each day like the opportunity it is. But is that really true?

 

The person you are today is the sum total of your life experiences, traumas, relationships, stories, and beliefs about yourself and your capabilities, and this sum total can prove to be a major roadblock to truly letting each day be new (unless we have a whole lot of awareness). We’ve all experienced this phenomenon; even when we desperately want to veer off the beaten path and make a change, familiar patterns and habits we’ve built up over a lifetime magically show up and thwart our efforts to do things differently. It can be maddening.

 

It’s hard to believe we’re creeping into the end of January already. Many of us might be taking stock of how we did on any promises or intentions to “turn over a new leaf” come January 1. I’ve noticed that the practice of making formal New Year’s Resolutions has faded a bit in recent years, and I think that’s a good thing. Old school resolutions usually required us to set our sights crazy high and reinvent ourselves in ways that were drastic. This approach sets most people up for failure and then swimming in the guilt of having failed again. That’s when that familiar creepy voice settles in and taunts us with nasty story lines like, “See? Who do you think you are for trying that? You knew you wouldn’t be able to pull it off, didn’t you?” Yeah, that isn’t very helpful.

 

Making change happen can be tricky business, and since I’m in the business of helping my clients (and myself!) make changes in their lives, it’s a topic that fascinates me.

 

A few years ago I wrote an article about the principle of Kaizen after reading a book by that title that a client so generously gave me. I think it’s worth posting bits of it here again since we’re talking about habits.

 

Kaizen: The definition of this Japanese word can be summed up with the well-known saying by Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with the first step.”

 

In other words, kaizen is about taking small steps for continual improvement.

 

Kaizen is relevant to anyone wanting to change something in his or her life, whether that change involves one’s health, relationships, attitude, or skills. Unlike dramatic change, which involves taking a jumbo leap to achieve massive results quickly, kaizen is a warm, generous, and subtle approach to change, giving the change-maker permission to take steps so small that, frankly, there are times we feel we are doing nothing at all.

 

It turns out that our chances of success are greatest when the steps are smallest.

 

In order for this to make sense, the author of Kaizen spends a significant amount of time explaining the brain and our body’s fight-or-flight response. A quick recap of the fascinating science he presents goes like this: all change – even positive change – is scary at some level. The fear of change is rooted in the brain’s physiology, and this is why most people fail when they strive for goals that are too radical. We heighten the brain’s fear response, triggering a primitive part of the brain called the amygdala, which is responsible for controlling the fight-or-flight response. The fight-or-flight response is a life-saving response that shuts down rational thinking (among other functions) and sends the body directly into action. Make no mistake, the fight-or-flight response has immense value, but it can also be troublesome, setting off alarm bells unnecessarily when we want to depart from our usual, safe routines. This can prevent creativity, change, and success from unfolding, making us feel stuck and weak.

 

The stealth solutions of kaizen allow your brain to tiptoe past the alarm bells, wandering around the fear toward small, achievable goals. To be clear, when we refer to really small steps, we’re talking about steps that can feel trivial, like:

 

  • flossing a single tooth each night
  • putting a single new food on your grocery list each week
  • going to bed 5 minutes earlier than the night before
  • marching in front of the TV for 30 second intervals during commercial breaks
  • complimenting one’s spouse each week
  • cleaning one piece of paper off of a cluttered desk or one file out of an overflowing file cabinet

 

These are all examples of small steps that will add up to continual improvement. Make no mistake about it, all of these steps add up.

 

Just think: if you put a single new food on your grocery list each week, at the end of the year you will have tried 52 new foods.

 

If you worked out only 15 minutes a day, at the end of the month you’ll have spent 7 hours moving your body. That’s significant!

 

If you usually drink 3 cups of coffee (or soda, or booze) a day and you cut back to 2, that’s 365 fewer drinks you will have consumed by the end of the year. Wow.

 

Since my very first day as a health coach I’ve been encouraging my clients to embrace the philosophy, “Small steps build lasting change,” though back then I didn’t fully understand the science behind the brain’s fear of change. I learned this approach in nutrition school. We used the analogy that building health is like climbing a ladder. If you are committed to climbing the ladder one rung at a time, you will steadily make progress. If you try skipping rungs or taking too many at once, there’s a greater likelihood you will slip and fall. When the change is too big to sustain, even people with admirable levels of discipline and willpower lose enthusiasm, peter out, and “fail.” This failure can be devastating, and the motivation to begin again is lost.

 

Which brings to mind another powerful statement from an expert in change-making:

 

“Habit formation hinges on your ability to bounce back.” – James Clear

 

In other words, it’s not missing a single workout that screws up your goals, it’s never getting back on track.

 

So here are my three quick tips for building habits that last:

 

  1. Start with steps as small as you need them to be, knowing small steps have a cumulative impact.
  2. Schedule habits into your life; don’t wait for them to magically happen.
  3. Shift your focus from what you feel is hard to what is possible. I heard someone say once that his/her go-to mantra is, “I can work with this.” This stuck with me. You might also try framing it as a question, “How can I work with this?” to get your creative juices flowing and create an attitude of openness and receptivity.

 

Good habits are built gradually. Start slow; get better along the way. Progress is a spectrum, so let yourself dance along that spectrum at your own pace. Let today be new.

 

In love & service,

Claudine

 

P.S. This accompanying image of a sunrise is from a lovely trip to the Outer Banks in September 2016 with my family.

Travel-Friendly Snacks

It’s that time of year, when a whole lot of us living in northern latitudes plan delightful escapes from our snowy, gray landscapes and jet off to recharge our spirits – and vitamin D levels – with sun, palm trees, beaches, and the salty, meditative ocean.

 

Over the last few weeks three different clients heading off to enviable havens have asked me for healthy travel snack ideas. I felt so uplifted and energized by these conversations! Making healthy choices while navigating airports, sitting on airplanes, and without access to our well-stocked pantries and fridges requires a little creativity. But if you’re willing to take on the challenge, it sure as heck demonstrates that choosing quality food has become a non-negotiable part of your life – not just a whimsical choice you make when it’s convenient. And that makes me smile.

 

Eating healthy while traveling doesn’t have to be super difficult if you intentionally plan ahead. It’s kind of amazing; once you’re committed to feeding yourself well, eating crap while traveling doesn’t even feel like an option anymore.

 

(In the end, our success always comes down to planning, doesn’t it?)

 

Here in Minneapolis, we’re lucky to have some fantastic dining options at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. If I’m leaving from the MSP airport, it’s not unusual for me to stop at French Meadow Bakery and pick up a salad and a probiotic-rich kombucha for my flight (just be careful opening that naturally carbonated kombucha on the plane or your seat mates might unexpectedly get treated to some kombucha too! Ka-pow!). Other airports around the world don’t always have the healthful dining options we’re lucky to have, but I’ve learned that finding a salad or fruit elsewhere is pretty doable. True, it might not be organic, but I encourage you to do the best you can and try to just relax when it’s not exactly what you’d prefer.

 

Additionally, I want to emphasize that I never leave for a trip without snacks. Never. In fact, I probably spend as much time thinking about and preparing my snacks as I do the clothes I’m packing. No exaggeration. Being hungry on a plane is as miserable as the snack packs they offer.

 

Below is a list of the healthy snackables I often pack. I usually choose 3-5, depending on how long the trip is:

Travel-Friendly Snacks

– apple slices or clementines that peel easily
– sliced veggies like red pepper or cucumber slices (usually 1 cucumber and 1 red pepper is plenty); these travel well and have the added bonus of being hydrating
– nuts and seeds, or a favorite trail mix
plantain chips (I am always so proud and happy with myself when I’ve taken the time to make these for a trip; I can hardly wait to dig into them)
Keen-wah Decadence bars: one of the best “protein bars” I’ve found
– a peeled hard boiled egg or an organic turkey stick for longer trips where I anticipate wanting/needing protein
Laughing Giraffe truffles for something sweet yet sustaining, or some dark chocolate
– ginger tea bags, just in case there’s turbulence and I start to feel woozy

 

Of course I avoid soda, so I also bring my refillable water bottle to ensure I stay hydrated. And remember that if you’re traveling to another country, they can get fussy about what they’ll allow you to bring into their country. Don’t pack too much, or you might have to toss your delicious treats into the trash. That feels awful.

 

What kind of food do you pack when you travel? I’ve got a couple of long plane trips coming up in the next six weeks, and I’d love more ideas myself. If you feel like sharing in the comments section below or on my Facebook page, I’d sure appreciate it. After all, us adventurers need to help each other!

 

In love & service,

Claudine

Surviving the Holidays, Calm and Intact

Dear Lovely Health Warrior,

I have a special treat for you this month! No, sorry, I won’t be hand-delivering chocolate bon-bons to each of you (although I did post a lovely sweet recipe next door to this blog post in case you have a hankering for something sweet). No, my treat for you is WAY better – it’s a distilled, practical, easy-to-follow, guest blog post from my dear friend Catherine Carpenter, transformational coach and meditation instructor, about how to survive the holiday season (and life beyond the holidays) with your nerves and sanity intact.

It’s good stuff, and I’m so excited to share it with you.

For the record, Catherine and I have been friends for 20 years, and she actually married my husband and me! For anyone who wants to get started with meditation or deepen her practice, Catherine is your woman (check out her upcoming meditation series beginning in January).

Enjoy!

Surviving the Holidays, Calm & Intact, by Dr. Catherine Carpenter

Even if you are not a consistent meditator there are small things you can do that will destress you and bring more calm and even joy into your life, both during the holiday season and beyond.

It seems the people we love the most are often the ones who can trigger us the easiest. How coincidental that we tend to spend more time with these people during the holiday season? And if the busyness of holiday social events weren’t enough, most of us are also working, buying gifts for the people on our list, preparing the food we’re responsible for, traveling, and oh! Did I mention it is also the time of year with the least amount of daylight? So we’re also tired and often pushed to our limits. It’s no wonder the holidays are filled with opportunities to stress out.

Breathe & Center Yourself
When you feel the stress beginning to mount, take a time out to breathe and center yourself. Find 5-10 minutes to sit quietly. Start with three soft belly breaths. The easiest way to breathe is to say to yourself, “soft” on the in-breath and “belly” on the out-breath. You should feel yourself expanding horizontally on the in-breath and contracting in your lower abs (bringing them in towards your spinal column) as you breath out. Go ahead, close your eyes and try this, nice and slow, three times, right now. I’ll wait. Taking a moment to do three, slow breaths brings you back to your center and calms you. Try this several times a day to stay centered.

Tune into the Felt Sensation of the Breath, Emotions, Thoughts, & Images
If you are ready for a little advanced practice, try tuning into the felt sensation of the breath, the emotion, the thoughts, and images. This is the way we liberate ourselves from our thoughts and feelings. Track the felt sensation — the quality, where it is in your body, and the strength. Just observe as it flows, changes, and then recedes. Notice how the emotions rise and fall like a wave. Similar to the breath, there is expansion and contraction. Ride the wave, neither suppressing it nor fanning it with your thoughts — just sit with it as it rises and falls.

Practice Gratitude
Embrace the beauty of this season with gratitude. Offering gratitude starts an inner conversation of thanks and devotion for the good things in life. On the other side is the response, bringing you more good things to be grateful for. Look around you and notice things anew: The way the light reflects more magically, softly, almost mystically than other times of the year. A snowflake…a dried leaf…the shapes of trees reaching towards the light in all their glory. Notice and give gratitude—right now—for this gift of breath in this very moment.

I love this small gratitude practice by Deepak Chopra. Have in mind three things to be grateful for — people, events, or nature:

Visualize the first thing you are grateful for. You can say the words, thank you, if you feel comfortable starting that way but the real key is feeling. Let the gratitude come from your heart — it’s a warm gentle sensation that brings a smile. Now, imagine that what you are grateful for (person, moment, nature) is aware of your thanks. See it smiling back at you, shimmering with the same warm feeling. Thanks has been received and welcomed.

After a moment go to the second thing and give thanks for it and see it receive your thanks — then do the same with the third thing you are grateful for. You have successfully started the flow of grace. When it is alive and flowing it works like a feedback loop.

This is the goal: we become our meditation — peacefully, loving, in present moment awareness.

In love & service,
Catherine (& Claudine)

Catherine Carpenter, D.Min. is a coach and meditation instructor. She is offering a six week class beginning January 11, 2018 and also facilitates a once a week Drop In Meditation. For more information see www.catherinecarpenter.com.

Easy, Delicious Date Bites – a healthy holiday party treat

Enjoy these sweet date bites this holiday season instead of endless floury treats that leave you feeling bloated, tired, and heavy. ;) These treats are a great example of a whole foods snack that can knock a super sweet punch without sending you on a wild blood sugar roller coaster ride. Yes, dates have sugar (plenty of it, in fact) but dates are also a whole fruit with some beneficial vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which makes them a great option when compared to desserts made with white sugar and flour. The fiber in the dates along with the almond butter both slow down the absorption of the sugars, which helps keep your blood sugar steady.

And talk about simple to make! You can have a batch of these ready in minutes.

These date bites are always a hit when I bring them to parties. People will act a bit wary at first since they’re “different,” but once someone is brave enough to try them, word gets around the room fast and they’re gone in no time.

Super Easy Date Bites – GF, DF
Yield: as many servings as you desire

Medjool dates
almond butter
cacao nibs
sea salt

Cut dates in half. Carefully fill each date halve with a small amount of almond butter. Top almond butter with 3-4 cacao nibs, and sprinkle with a twist of sea salt. Voila! You have a tasty, nutritious snack.

P.S. Though I’ve never tried other combinations, I’m sure you could just as easily use sunflower seed butter or tahini in place of almond butter, if you’re avoiding nuts. Also, you could probably use a chocolate chip or two in place of the cacao nibs if you have kiddos in the house who might turn up their noses at the somewhat bitter cacao nibs. Feel free to play and have fun with this “recipe.”

In love & service,
Claudine