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Making Music from the Autumn Blues

For as long as I can remember, Autumn has been my favorite season. I love everything about it: the cooler temps and brisk air, nature’s fiery kaleidoscope of oranges, yellows, and reds, even the shorter days and long nights that arrive with the changing seasons.

Basically I feel like the introvert in me can fully relax for the first time since spring rushed in with its frenzy of nonstop activity. It’s okay to slip into my p.j.’s at 7pm, curl up with a good read, and sleep nine hours without feeling an ounce of guilt.

Many, many people, however, have the exact opposite experience that I do. When the calendar hits September, some of you begin filling with dread, knowing that the dark, chilly months ahead will likely sour your mood, tank your energy levels and leave you feeling depleted, lonely, listless, worried, nervous, and SAD. I hear it from my clients each year: fall and winter feel endless and suffocating.

This newsletter is for you.

SAD = Seasonal Affective Disorder
While it’s been known for a very long time that some people struggle with their mood and energy during autumn and winter, the term “SAD” has only been around since 1984 when it was first used in a paper written by Norman Rosenthal and his colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, MD. This paper helped shine the spotlight on and foster a wider discussion about SAD, the disorder an estimated 10-20% of Americans deal with. It spurred decades of concentrated research about what drives SAD, how it might be treated effectively, and it also brought validity to the very real struggles and depression that many people experience like clockwork every year.

The reasons some people experience SAD and others don’t still isn’t understood completely because – like most things we study – everybody is unique and there’s a ton of nuance to consider, but it is theorized that SAD is related to changes in circadian rhythms, as well as shifts in both melatonin and serotonin production. (Melatonin is the hormone that regulates sleep wake cycles; serotonin is our feel-good hormone.)

Since SAD is such a big topic, I’ve decided to devote two newsletters to the conversation. Today we’ll be looking at how we might be able to harness physical activity and nutrition (including supplementation) to our benefit; next time we’ll dive into additional lifestyle practices to consider. Stay tuned.

Making Music from the Autumn Blues

1. Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Admittedly, this topic could be an entire newsletter in itself, but basically an anti-inflammatory diet consists of:
– lots of brightly colored organic fruits and vegetables: dark, leafy greens like kale and collards, bright berries, glowing orange squashes and pumpkins, purple cabbage, etc. Strive to eat a rainbow of produce each day. What if you filled 2/3 of your plate with produce each day? It would be a phytochemical-fest! (And that would be a good thing.)
– plenty of healthy fats: avocados, omega-3 rich fish like salmon and sardines, olives, olive oil, chia seeds, nuts, etc.
– quality meats: if you eat meat, choose meat from animals that lived a good life outside in the sunshine, eating a diet natural to them (a diet usually consisting of grasses, forbs, legumes, grubs, insects, etc. Yum!)
– other nutritionally-dense, fiber-rich foods: quinoa, black beans, pinto beans, brown rice, etc.

An anti-inflammatory diet does not include soda, sugar, excessive alcohol, chemicals, highly-processed or other poor quality food (but you already knew that). Here’s an easy shortcut to remember: if it has a label on it, you may want to think twice about eating it.

2. Consider Carb Cycling
More and more functional medicine physicians are talking about a concept called “carb cycling,” which emphasizes the importance of timing one’s daily carbohydrate intake in a way that adjusts our cortisol rhythms and makes it easier to harmonize our circadian rhythms (remember, it’s theorized that circadian rhythms are often disrupted in those dealing with SAD). There’s often some confusion around what exactly is meant when we say the word carbohydrate; in this context we’re talking about most beans, potatoes and sweet potatoes, winter squashes like acorn, butternut, and kabocha, peas, lentils, parsnips, turnips, corn, beets, brown rice, quinoa, all other grains, and fruit.

If one were cycling his or her carbs, it would look like this:
Breakfast: 1 golf ball-sized amount of carbohydrates
Lunch: 2 golf balls of carbohydrates
Dinner: 3 golf balls of carbohydrates

Studies showed that participants who cycled their carbs according to the amounts above balanced out their cortisol levels, began sleeping more easily and soundly, and even lost weight – usually within a couple of weeks.

3. Supplement with Vitamin D
The benefits of vitamin D are now well-reported and most people have some awareness of just how critical this “vitamin” (which is really a hormone) is to optimal health. Bone health, immune health, mental health, and more all rely on a solid bank of vitamin D, preferably in the 55-80 ng/ml range (vitamin D levels can be ascertained via a blood test). SAD is more common the more north you go. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, SAD is seven times more common in Washington than in Florida, which has led researchers to conclude that optimal vitamin D levels play a critical role in warding off SAD. Find out your vitamin D levels, then talk to your doctor about just how much vitamin D to supplement with. Because I live in Minnesota (a northern latitude) and have a tendency to be deficient anyway, I don’t think twice about taking 5,000-10,000 IU’s daily in the winter, but everybody is unique.

4. Talk to your physician about 5-HTP.
5-HTP is an amino acid used in the production of serotonin. Serotonin, as you well know, is the neurotransmitter responsible for stabilizing one’s mood and essentially helping us feel good. Physicians generally recommend supplementing with 5-HTP rather than serotonin because it can access the brain from the bloodstream, whereas serotonin cannot. 5-HTP can also be converted into the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, often proving helpful for those suffering from insomnia related to SAD. Overall clinical trials to date show that 5-HTP has been shown to help alleviate depression associate with SAD, as well as persistent depression. While 5-HTP is generally considered safe, please don’t run out and start supplementing without talking to your doctor first. If you take an anti-depressant, it may not be wise to throw 5-HTP into the mix. Likewise, it can cause GI upset for some folks. Note: it is recommended that one take 5-HTP for a maximum of 12 weeks at a time.

5. Boost your B-vitamins with a quality probiotic. Among the trillions of important bacteria that live in our digestive tract are friendly little guys that produce B vitamins, specifically biotin, folate, and B12. B vitamins are important for energy production – converting our food into fuel – which is critical for people suffering from winter lethargy. Additionally, b vitamins are known to help alleviate mood disorders, including depression and anxiety. Keeping your gut microbiome healthy is important for many reasons, one of which definitely includes nurturing the production of B vitamins. Our poor microbiome is constantly under assault from stress, sugar, chemicals, nutritional deficiencies, and alcohol, so incorporating a probiotic like Prescript Assist or Florastor (two of my favorites) can give us some much-needed support.

6. Move your body, preferably in the morning.
I realize it is a tall order to ask someone who is feeling down and lethargic to incorporate exercise into her routine, but moving your body is absolutely critical for keeping SAD at bay. Inactivity will only breed more lethargy. Movement creates energy. I’m a huge fan of getting outside for a brisk walk in the morning (another thing that helps balance our circadian rhythms), but if that doesn’t speak to you find something else that does. Perhaps swimming at a local gym or participating in a heated yoga class will help you forget it’s winter. Maybe dancing is your thing; hip hop or other dance videos are just a click away on YouTube. Even just putting on some favorite tunes and lifting weights for 10 minutes can send a positive ripple through your day. Just don’t sit on your butt all day. That will never serve you.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is real and can be debilitating. I hope you found an idea or two you can explore further. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with a Part 2 to this newsletter, in which I’ll share additional lifestyle practices we can try to help make some music from the Autumn Blues. Sending you love and light as we journey into the dark.

With love and a big hug,
Claudine

Can’t be bothered to cook? No problem. 3 “assembly-only” recipes to the rescue.

Where did the summer go? Is it just me or does summer fly by more quickly with each year that passes in this precious life? It’s a bit startling sometimes, to say the least.

I hope you made some unforgettable summer memories the last few months. Highlights for me included working in my native gardens (no surprise there for those of you who know me), some travels with family to Europe where I fed my loves of adventure and history, daily walks with my hubby that always evolve into spontaneous social hours with neighbors, promoting local foods through a big local foods celebration called Minnesota Cooks, and simple gatherings with family and friends on restaurant patios or in backyards that often make up the most nurturing and satisfying moments of life.

And I have a confession – this summer I basically couldn’t be bothered to cook much, which is pretty unusual for me. Typically I enjoy the planning, chopping, and creativity of cooking, but the last couple of months I just honestly wanted to spend my time on other things and felt satisfied with simple food. Turning on my stove felt utterly unappealing. So I “assembled” meals instead. Summer is a great season for “assembling” and throwing stuff together since in-season produce is so fresh and perfect and delicious as-is.

It’s been a cool summer here in Minnesota where I live. We’re still waiting for many of the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants – summer’s heat lovers – to make their big appearance; therefore, I figured it wasn’t too late to share a couple winner recipes that have been satisfying the palate while requiring little work. Enjoy!

Melon and Cucumber Salad Yield: 4-6 servings
A friend reminded me of this recipe a few weeks ago, and I’m so glad she did. Isn’t it funny how we can space out some of our favorites? This classic trio of herbs (relied upon by South American and Asian cooks) brightens salads and sautés. Here it cools the heat of the jalapeño. Serve this on dark greens or as a side to grilled chicken or pork, if you do feel like you have some bandwidth for cooking. :)

2 limes
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 large shallot, finely diced
1 cup cilantro leaves
1/2 cup basil leaves, cut into 1/8-inch strips
1/3 cup mint leaves, cut into 1/8-inch strips
1 jalapeno, seeded, deveined, and diced
1 pound melon, peeled, seeded, and cut into 2-inch chunks (cantaloupe or honey dew)
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into 2-inch chunks
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Grate the zest (the green rind, not the white pith) and juice the limes into a large bowl and whisk in the olive oil. Toss in shallot, cilantro, basil, mint and jalapeño. Allow to sit a few minutes, then toss in the melon and cucumber. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Refrigerate until cold before serving.

Golden Tomato Avocado Salad
4 Servings

2 cups chopped yellow and/or orange tomatoes
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 large avocado, diced into ½ inch cubes
½ cup finely sliced scallions
1/3 to ½ cup fresh lime juice
¼ cup orange juice
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons minced fresh basil
1 large garlic clove, minced or pressed
1 teaspoon minced fresh cilantro (optional)
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Combine all of the ingredients in a serving bowl, toss well, and serve or refrigerate.

**While the first 2 recipes focus more on ingredients local to the Midwest, this next recipe is much more Caribbean-inspired.**

Ginger Chia Pudding
Yield: 1 serving
This recipe comes directly from Gwyneth Paltrow’s newest cookbook “It’s All Easy,” which a client told me to get. She was right. Good ole Gwyneth’s done it again – there are some really excellent recipes in that book. I love chia puddings for breakfast, but some people eat them as a snack or dessert.

1/4 cup chia seeds
1/2 teaspoon very finely grated or minced fresh ginger
3/4 cup coconut water
6 Tablespoons canned coconut milk
2 teaspoons honey or coconut sugar
1/4 cup diced fresh peach or other favorite fruit

Combine the chia seeds, ginger, coconut water, coconut milk, and honey/coconut sugar in a bowl or mason jar. Stir well; allow to sit in the fridge for at least 10 minutes or up to 2 days. Serve topped with diced fresh peach or other fresh fruit (I’ve been using fresh raspberries).

There are many reasons why we might find ourselves resisting the task of cooking from time to time. If you’ve also found yourself in a standoff with your stove recently, I hope you found this newsletter helpful. For the record, I do feel home-cooking is immeasurably important to creating health, but I also know there are plenty of ways to skirt around it occasionally and still make healthful choices, especially in summer. Cheers to assembling!

With love and a big hug,
Claudine

5 Favorite Food Shortcuts I Embrace

Today I’m branching out and trying something new:

 

Someone recently challenged me on the fact that I never really write about “shortcuts” or “health hacks” or draft blog posts with titles like “My Top 3 Easy Tips for Effortless Health.” She argued that these are the messages people are most attracted to as a result of our overly busy lifestyles and that basically I’m missing the boat by not obliging.

 

It’s true – I’ve never written about “health hacks,” mainly because a huge part of me resists this attitude/mentality toward health. (Also because it just feels a bit cheesy and market-y to me). In all honesty, I spend a lot of time wondering why we construct lives so busy that we don’t have time to cook for and take care of ourselves. Why is cooking now regarded as such a massive chore and considered secondary to other life obligations?

 

(But I digress. Clearly that’s another blog post altogether…)

 

At any rate, her suggestion prompted me to meet my resistance head-on and write about foodie shortcuts for once. After all, as a health practitioner I would identify myself as a moderate. I do believe it takes an edge of rebelliousness to resist and combat mainstream messages about nutrition, but I believe just as strongly it’s important to remain flexible and avoid becoming too rigid about food. My clients know I eat dark chocolate, drink wine (and not just red – white and rose, too), and I love my organic Whole Grain Milling corn chips. These delights bring me joy and so long as I tune in to and respect my body’s limits, I’m pretty sure I’m not doing any great harm by ingesting them. (I do want to acknowledge, however, that some people’s bodies do allow for more flexibility than others – it’s important for each of us to determine our own limits.)

 

In terms of food abundance and convenience, it’s a really great time to be alive! So, in the spirit of being flexible and easy-going,  let’s talk about 5 foodie shortcuts I embrace:

 

  1. Cauliflower rice from Trader Joe’s or Costco: Cauliflower rice is delicious and nutritious, but ain’t no doubt about it – it’s a pain-in-the-petudie to make, so this is a convenience food I adore. Every spring I let go of grains for a minimum of six weeks, which leaves me searching for a satisfying rice substitute. Cauliflower rice does the trick and makes me happy. It’s also a great way to get more veggies into your body. I don’t shop at Trader Joe’s or Costco a ton, but if I happen to be passing one I’ll swing in especially for this. Never had cauliflower rice? I just sauté it in a little olive oil, ghee, or butter, salt to taste, then serve it in place of rice. I love having it with a fried egg and kimchi for breakfast. A friend recently told me she mixes tomato sauce and southwestern spices like cumin and chili powder to her cauliflower rice then serves it with eggs for breakfast. Yum!
  2. Frozen vegetables, especially frozen butternut squash. I do believe fresh is best when it comes to veggies, but frozen is fine too. For half the year my husband and I belong to a CSA farm (community supported agriculture), so we actually have all we can do to eat all of the fresh produce delivered each week. But in the winter months I definitely keep frozen vegetables on deck. They’re crazy convenient, especially things like squash, which can take a while to peel and cube. Frozen stir-fry mixes make it possible to have a meal ready in minutes, and frozen greens like spinach and kale are easy, nutrient-packed additions to smoothies or quiches.
  3. Canned beans. Cooking dried beans from scratch isn’t difficult, but sometimes we forget to soak them ahead of time or feel put-off by the lengthy cooking time required. Just like with frozen vegetables, it’s possible to have a meal ready in minutes if you have some canned beans on standby. I often keep cans of garbanzos, black, and pinto beans on hand. One note: only buy beans in cans with BPA-free linings. We certainly don’t need hormone-disrupting chemicals leaching into our food.
  4. Sliced jicama. Jicama has a mild sweetness and a snappy, refreshing crunch that tides me over beautifully when an afternoon snack-attack hits. It’s also sort of a pain to cut, so I usually buy it pre-cut at the coop. Try it with guacamole. Awesome.
  5. Packages of pre-shredded slaws, including cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. These babies are HANDY. I started using them last fall and got hooked. Just like the cauliflower rice, they’re an excellent way to get more veggies into your body effortlessly. I don’t know about you, but I’d never sit there and shred broccoli or Brussels sprouts, so I love that these nutrient-dense bags of cancer-fighters are available.

 

In summary, yes I believe fresh, scratch-cooking is optimal, but I also feel confident most of us are going to be just fine even if we don’t ferment our own vegetables, make our own cauliflower pizza crusts, or chop every last vegetable ourselves. It really comes down to making the best choices we can in a given moment while allowing ourselves some grace.

 

So what did you think? Was this helpful? And do you have some shortcuts of your own you’d be willing to share?

 

Much love,

Claudine

Plantain Chips Recipe – a favorite crunchy snack

Most of us enjoy something salty and crunchy to snack on every once in a while, and if you’re anything like me, you can only handle so many nuts before the thought of another almond makes your belly hurt. My friend Suzy and I just finished facilitating a 10-day group detox during which we let go of grains and corn (along with many other inflammatory foods like sugar, dairy, alcohol, caffeine, soy, and certainly anything processed). This meant chips and crackers were off the table, which can make satisfying that craving for crunch a little tricky, especially when a carrot or celery stick is simply NOT going to do the trick. My answer to the salty-crunchy-craving are plantain chips, something I got turned on to through my travels to Jamaica.

 

Plantains are part of the banana family, but they are not as sweet. You would never eat a plantain raw as you would a banana. You usually bake or fry them. I always opt to fry them just because that’s how I was taught. If a plantain is ripe, it will look similar to a ripe banana – yellow with some brown spots on it – and when you saute it in coconut oil an amazing sweetness develops through the cooking process. I’m not exaggerating when I say that sauteed ripe plantains make a mouth-watering, deeply satisfying dessert.

 

Unripe plantains, on the other hand, will be pretty bright green on the outside (like the picture). These are the plantains you want for making plantain chips. I typically buy them at my nearby Fresh Thyme Market or Valley Natural Co-op, but it can be a bit of a scavenger hunt to find them sometimes.

 

One last tidbit about plantains: they are rich in something important called Resistant Starch, which is being talked about more frequently these days. Resistant Starch helps keep your blood sugar stable and is valuable food for the billions of bacteria that live in your gut. Remember, these are the bacteria that largely control the health of our immune system, so we want to keep this powerful ecosystem known as the “microbiome” fed and happy.

 

Happy snacking, everyone!

 

Plantain Chips

Yield: about 20 chips

 

1 unripe plantain

several tablespoons coconut oil (vegetable oil works fine, too, but I typically recommend avoiding vegetable oil if you can handle coconut oil)

sea salt

 

Peel the plantain. You will likely need a knife for this step, as plantains do not easily peel like a banana does, especially the unripe ones. I usually slice through the peel lengthwise in several places and then begin working the peel off from those cuts. Sometimes I need to use my knife to slice it off completely.

 

Thinly slice plantains into “chip-size” pieces. The thinner you slice them, the crunchier they will be, which is a big part of the appeal. I use a very sharp knife to slice them so they are only about a millimeter thick. Most chips end up being 1-1 1/2 inches long.

 

Lightly sprinkle sea salt onto both sides of the plantain pieces, using your fingers to gently push the salt into the plantain flesh.

 

Heat 1-2 tablespoons coconut oil over medium heat in a cast iron pan or heavy skillet. I love my cast iron pan for making these – they don’t stick and get super crunchy. When oil is ready, place salted plantain pieces into oil. Fry for several minutes, then turn over to fry the other side for a couple minutes until beginning to turn golden. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels. Work in batches, if necessary, adding more oil to the pan before starting another batch.

 

Enjoy! If you decide to give them a try, let me know how it goes. These are undoubtedly one of my favorite snacks and I’m so excited to share them with you.

 

Much love,

Claudine

Pushing the Spring Reset Button – it’s detox time!

One of the weekend rituals my hubby and I treasure involves one of us reading aloud to the other a wacky “Seinfeld-like” column from our local Sunday paper. The columnist is James Lileks, and he is a nut. This guy has the most wacky, goofball way of seeing the world and examining the quirkiest of human behavior.

 

His columns CRACKS US UP to the point that we’re usually wiping laughter tears from our cheeks and holding our sides as one of us struggles to finish reading the column out loud to the other.

 

Last week, James’ column was about spring in Minnesota. Here’s an excerpt: “April is irritable and moody; it has a reputation for being the start of the good warm times, and it really resents it. April’s attitude is more or less a sullen teen who just doesn’t feel like it, OK? Gah! Leave me alone (slammed door, loud music)! Then the month offers a sheepish apology: Here’s some 60s. We’re good?”

 

Mike and I went for a walk later that day in the rain and laughed repeatedly over the teenager analogy, occasionally bursting out with, “Gah!” as we felt ourselves pushed around by violent wind gusts and did our best to dodge the hundreds of sidewalk worms who had come up for air.

 

Yes. Spring is indeed a moody and irritable teenager.

 

Every year I write a newsletter about spring because it’s that magical time for resetting our health. It’s all too easy to ignore seasonal transitions in our modern world where we tend to live, work and drive in temperature controlled environments and only get outside if we’re super intentional about it. But spring asks us for some loving attention and intention around foods, behaviors, and activity level. Spring asks us to wake up again.

 

Spring is our time to shake off the heaviness of winter, both literally and figuratively. Most of us have put on a few pounds over the winter, which is normal, and spring is the time to let them go. Some of you get hit with congestion and spring allergies, which means it’s time to focus on clearing the congestion. Spring brings a renewed energy and enthusiasm for the months ahead – it asks us to move our arses again and act on the ideas that brewed forth out of winter’s darkness.

 

Here are my top 3 tips for a healthy spring this year:

  1. Get outside. Even if it’s raining. Strive to spend at least 30 minutes outside every day. Most of our homes are filled with all sorts of things that aren’t great for us – carpet, out-gassing furniture, paint, etc. In fact, multiple studies claim our home interiors hold more pollution than the busiest street corner in Manhattan. If our homes hold this much toxicity, we can only imagine what our offices are like. Get outside, inhale the fresh air, move your body, and connect with nature. Every day.
  2. Ease up on meat, dairy, and grains and ease into more beans, greens, and sprouts. Winter calls for heavier, heartier foods to keep us warm and protect us from the harsh elements. Spring is the exact opposite. It demands foods that are light, energizing, clearing, and “drying” – in other words, foods that won’t contribute to congestion in the body, which, when combined with spring rains, contribute to spring colds and allergies. Every spring I let go of grains and dairy completely for about six weeks and end up doubling my vegetable intake as a result. Broccoli or alfalfa sprouts become a staple on my grocery list. Basically, I look down into my grocery cart and see a sea of green for a couple of months.
  3. Consider a gentle liver detox, which sounds way more complicated than it is. Cleansing one’s liver can take shape in many different ways: Simply by adding in lots of leafy green vegetables (like kale, collards, and Swiss chard) and sprouts, you’d be giving your liver a boost. You could also take a break from alcohol for a few weeks or start sipping warm lemon water in the morning. Milk thistle is an herb that loves up the liver – it can be taken in the form of tea or supplements. One of my favorite spring supplements is called Hepatocleanse, which is a blend of milk thistle and other herbs that support liver health. Heck, even something as easy as an Epsom Salt bath helps reduce one’s toxic load. (Interested in doing a formal cleanse? Check out the details of our upcoming cleanse beginning April 30 here.
  4. Bonus tip for allergy sufferers: I know spring can be brutal for some of you. Load up on antioxidants like grapeseed extract and vitamin C, and for the love of all things sacred, get dairy and sugar out of your diet. You might also want to consider getting a neti pot, which you use to clean your nasal passages out with a saline solution. While running salt water through your nasal passages doesn’t exactly feel awesome, neither do allergies, and it’s a surprisingly effective remedy.

If you’re confused about detoxing, consider joining my friend Suzy and me for our annual Spring Reset Cleanse. Don’t be scared, we’re gentle and loving, and our cleanses are NEVER about perfection or deprivation. They are only about supporting one another to eat clean and take great, intentional care of ourselves for a couple of weeks.

 

What is the Reset Cleanse?

It’s a 10-day whole foods cleanse designed to jumpstart a healthy spring. The cleanse will run from Sunday, April 30 – Wednesday May 10.

We’ll meet 3 times over the course of 10 days: once for a cooking social and twice for cleanse discussions and gentle exercise sessions like yoga and foam rolling.

It’s not about perfection or about dying of starvation. It’s about eating plenty of “clean” food and getting daily support to make changes you’ve been wanting to make for your health and well-being.

The cost is $229.

Follow this link to read more and register. :)

 

As spring rains arrive and wash away winter, let’s do our best to make some conscious, subtle shifts to support our health. What will you try? I’d love it if you’d leave a comment below.

 

Much love,

Claudine

Why fuss about digestive health?

I love talking about poop. (Excuse me – bowel movements.)

I know it’s kind of a taboo thing to state so matter-of-factly where hundreds of you could potentially read that statement, and, believe me, people frequently tease me about my unusual fascination with the subject, but I guarantee you this: if you spent as much time as I do researching how much of our health hinges on digestive wellness, you’d love talking about poop, too.

Keep reading this blog post to learn:

  1. exactly why I have such a deep reverence for digestive wellness
  2. what your bm’s might be saying about your overall health

(Also keep reading to experience two very short, ridiculous poems about gut health brainstormed by my brother and sister-in-law on a quiet day of fishing last summer.)

When I first began my health coaching career in 2005, my sole goal was to help people feel better and learn how to take great care of themselves. I didn’t give a second thought to whether I was going to “specialize” in any particular niche. I worked with clients around weight loss, cancer, autoimmune diseases, depression, etc. You get the picture. Guess what I noticed: Digestive distress was a common theme with a startling number of my clients, even if it wasn’t the primary reason they sought out my services.

That’s when I became keenly interested in the shape, size, frequency, and color of one’s do-do.

It’s important to remember there are no walls in the body. We love treating health concerns as if we have separate internal compartments, but we don’t. Each system in the body impacts the other systems, and the influence of the digestive tract is vast. I often refer to the digestive tract as our “river of life.” If that river is clean and flowing freely, it will be a source of nourishment and health for everything around it. If it’s dirty and sludgy, it’ll be a source of toxicity.

Simply put – good health begins with good health in the gut.

Every one of us has heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” Well, over the past few years that saying has morphed into a much nerdier (and less catchy) phrase, “You are what you absorb,” which many of us in the integrative/functional/holistic world embrace. What does that statement mean? It means you can eat the best food in the world, but if there’s a breakdown in the digestive process leading to poor nutrient absorption, there will be consequences. You’ll have to deal with the downfall somehow, sometime, somewhere in the body.

Come. Revel with me. Here are just a few astounding facts about your gut:

  • The surface area of the GI tract is the size of a tennis court – about 300 square meters.
  • Your gut quite literally functions as your second brain; it is formed from the same cells as the brain during development. When we “feel something in our gut,” that’s real information we should pay attention to.
  • 70-80% of the immune system is located in and around the digestive system.
  • More neurotransmitters are made in the gut than in the brain; we make 80-90% of our serotonin – the “feel-good hormone” – in the gut.
  • The human microbiome project has shown there are ten times more bacteria in the body than cells. In fact, some people say we are really only 10% human given this data! The project found that protein-coding genes in the bacteria in our intestinal terrain are 360 times more abundant than human genes in the body. This means that the genetic makeup of the microbiome (a fancy name for the intestinal ecosystem) has a greater influence on an individual’s health than the intracellular genetics of the individual.
  • Intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, in which the gut lining becomes weak and loose, is now thought to be one of the primary underlying reasons for the onset of autoimmune diseases and mental illnesses.

Now for some reflection on your own digestion and do-do. Here’s what your poop might be saying about you:

If your poop looks like rabbit pellets, you’re constipated. You might be dehydrated, your intestinal lining might be dry and not slippery enough, or perhaps you aren’t eating enough fiber overall. You may also have an imbalance in the good bacteria and bad bacteria living in your gut. This is called gut dysbiosis. If you poop fewer than 3 times a week, you’re officially constipated, but most experts agree having 1-3 bm’s DAILY is optimal. Yes, daily.

If your poop looks like a sausage or a brown banana, congrats! You’ve got a winner. (P.S. I’m sorry if this changes how you think about sausages or bananas.)

If you experience diarrhea or frequently have loose stools, your food is moving through you too quickly and you’re not absorbing adequate nutrition from it. Very, very often this is because you are eating something you are sensitive to like dairy, gluten, corn, or nuts, although it can also be a sign of a serious bacterial imbalance or a pathogenic infection.

If you burp or pass gas frequently after meals, it likely means you have low stomach acid and aren’t breaking down your food properly. That or you simply didn’t take enough time to chew your food until it was liquid. Remember – 30 chews per bite of food makes digestion smooth! Same thing if you experience heartburn or see undigested food in your stool.

If you consistently bloat after meals, it’s time to start sleuthing around for the underlying reasons because it’s not normal to bloat after eating. Perhaps you are eating foods your body doesn’t like, or you’re lacking the enzymes and stomach acid needed to break your food down properly, or you have a bacterial imbalance again. The reasons for bloating can be numerous; it can take some detective work to figure it out.

Conclusion:

It may sound dramatic, but life becomes way more enjoyable when you and digestive system aren’t at war with one another. Helping clients improve their digestion has been more satisfying than I ever imagined. I’ve seen clients start traveling again or attending yoga classes because they restored trust in their bodies.

Remember, imbalances in the intestinal terrain may lead to other, more complicated health concerns down the road. Resolve to deal with them now rather than waiting. And on that note, I’ll leave you with two short promotional poems my brother and sister-in-law brainstormed for me last summer while fishing on Lake Kabetogama:

 

“When your guts are in a bind

and relief is hard to find,

call Claudine!”

 

“If your bowels are smelling foul,

and you need the scoop on poop,

call Claudine!”

(Yes, it probably goes without saying, it was a very slow day fishing.)

Love,

Claudine

The Magic in the Rear View Mirror

Wow, you guys. It’s so hard to believe we’re sitting at the close of 2016, ready to bust out our shiny 2017 calendars and launch headfirst into a brand new year. January 1 – a day oozing with possibility. We love the idea of a definitive fresh start, untainted and ripe with hopes, dreams, and goals.

What will 2017 hold for us? Maybe a few ambitious types have already jotted down a couple of resolutions, determined to harness the potential in the year ahead.

Don’t get me wrong – I think resolutions can be productive, but before we dive blindly into working out every day or saving a million bucks for retirement because these are things we think we SHOULD do to be a good human being, let’s push the pause button and back up a few steps.

I want to share a really simple process I have – consisting of three steps – that I use to reflect on the previous year and assess how on track I am (or not) with how I want to live my life.

One of my own greatest fears is that one day I’ll be lying on my deathbed and have the sinking feeling that I lived too much of my life accidentally, going along with whatever happened to me rather than co-creating it with rock solid intention.

I know I’m not alone with this fear; I hear my clients and friends talk about this, too.

For the most part, I’m on it. I really strive to be intentional and present and have clarity about who I am, yet there are certainly times when I notice I’ve been half-asleep and settling for things that are comfortable and easy rather than those that are going to nudge me into a satisfying life I’ll ultimately feel proud of.

So I’ve found great power and magic in pausing to look in the rear view mirror, scanning the last 365 days, and reflecting on what I accomplished and brought me joy, what was hard and forced me to grow, and what I want to feel more of in the coming year.

This gives me a better sense of what I want to keep inviting in or what I need to say goodbye to going forward. It guides me in creating meaningful intentions for the New Year that are ultra specific to me and don’t stink of any societal “shoulds.” “Shoulds” can be hard to get away from.

Sometime over the next few days I’d encourage y’all to get down with your bad selves, pen and paper in hand, and get real about what 2016 looked like for you. You can take five minutes to do this or five hours. It’s up to you.

Here goes (elaborate as much or as little as you’d like):

  1. REJOICE IN THE HIGHLIGHTS
  2. HONOR THE LOWLIGHTS
  3. FIND YOUR DESIRED FEELING/S

1. REJOICE IN THE HIGHLIGHTS

There can be a ton of questions you can use to drill down into the highlights of the year – those peak experiences that made you happy to be alive and grateful for all the goodness in your life. Some happened organically, some you created intentionally. This step is often fairly easy because we love remembering the good stuff. (Just make sure you don’t overlook the little good stuff that can get lost in the shuffle.)

Once you’ve identified the highlights, circle some of those you’d like to bring forward into the new year, if possible. Below are some questions to get you started.

Brainstorming questions:

  • What are the events, activities, or trips that made you smile from ear to ear?
  • What did you accomplish?
  • What do you feel proud of?
  • What new skills did you develop?
  • What’s something new you tried and liked?
  • Did you meed someone new who has become a bright light in your life?
  • Remember a time when you laughed so hard your belly hurt.
  • What’s your favorite story from this past year?

2. HONOR THE LOWLIGHTS

Let’s face it, every year has it’s low spots, those times when we feel devastated, hopeless, frustrated, rejected, exhausted, or lost. Sometimes we lose a loved one or have to say goodbye to a relationship that isn’t working anymore. People lose jobs, others deal with major health concerns. We all make mistakes and do things we feel badly about. Take some time to reflect on the lowlights from the year. These are the moments in life that typically stretch us the most and ultimately lead to personal transformation – if we choose to examine them.

Once you’ve listed your lowlights, take an extra minute or two to note what you learned and how you grew from those experiences. Then decide if there’s something you could do differently in the year ahead to eliminate or dim that lowlight. (Obviously this step doesn’t apply if the lowlight included something outside of our control, like the passing away of a loved one.)

Brainstorming questions:

  • What mistakes did you make?
  • Did you have to say goodbye to someone you loved or who was important to you?
  • What made you cry?
  • What disappointed you?
  • What made you bubble over with anger?
  • What didn’t go the way you had planned?
  • What sorts of things rocked your sense of safely in the world?

3. FIND YOUR DESIRED FEELING/S

Is is said that our choices are largely based on how we want to feel, that we are always trying to move towards pleasure and away from pain. Additionally, it’s fair to say we all want to feel loved and to feel love for others. Assuming that’s true for you, if you were to explore even more, what other desired feeling/s do you want more of in your life?

This might be the hardest piece of this whole process because, let’s face it, a lot of us are not very in tune with our feelings. You may actually want to refer to an online list of feelings to help brainstorm. Using a list can help us get away from generic words we grossly overuse like “happy,” “good,” “successful,” etc. and get to some meatier words that are more specific and meaningful.

Once you land on a word or two, then guess what? Your job in the coming year is to keep those words forefront in your decision-making processes. For instance, if you decide you wan to feel more “calm” in the year ahead, then you get to make more of your decisions based on that desired feeling. If a friend invites you to a concert and you get anxious just thinking about the crowds, then you will likely want to say no so you stay congruent with what you say your desired feeling is. If you consistently pack your schedule too tightly, causing stress and resentment, then some major shifts will needed to build more calm into your life.

Here are a few possible feelings to try on:

  • joy
  • resilient
  • peaceful
  • calm
  • thankful
  • strong
  • playful
  • optimistic
  • courageous
  • energetic

What do you think? Will you do this with me?

Claudine’s Answers:

In my newsletter I promised I’d post some excerpts of my answers here. If you’re curious how 2016 was for me, keep reading. Otherwise, go grab your pen and paper and get started, or leave me a note in the comments. :)

Claudine’s Highlights:

Overall, 2016 was a smooth year for this gal, especially when I compare it to previous years. I have a lot to be grateful for, and most of my highlights involve the beautiful people in my life – my incredible family, friends, and my hubby. I traveled more in 2016 than I had in a long time – both with friends and family – which brought me immense joy and fed my very real need for adventure. I saw some stellar stage productions and other live performances, and I began reading fiction again for the sole purpose of reading for pleasure, something this English major had been deeply missing in her life for YEARS.

After a tumultuous shift in my work environment the year before, I once again found myself with my feet on the ground and head held high in my business, which I feel quite proud of. I was reminded that I am more resilient than I sometimes remember myself to be. I created materials for my business that had been sitting on a to-do list for a long time, and I feel so ecstatic that I get to do work I love.

I have a new goddaughter who lights me up and reminds me of the pure love and potential inside all of us. I love baby snuggles.

I am so grateful to live in a neighborhood where we know our neighbors. Our neighborhood game nights, soup exchanges, and dance parties make me feel 20 again (except when I wake up with a charlie horse in the middle of the night from too much dancing. Ouch.) I have community. Real community.

Claudine’s Lowlights

While 2016 was fairly smooth sailing as far as my personal bubble is concerned, it certainly didn’t come without challenges and disappointments. Friends’ health concerns tore at my heart, the political climate in our country stressed me out and left me downright depressed, and the never-ending violence around the world leaves me feeling hopeless on days when my resilience cup is low. I’m also dealing with a health concern myself that will require surgery in the coming year, which bums me out big time. I still suffer from the mindset that as a health coach I should never have a health concern myself, which pretty much sets me up for failure. Sigh. Believe me, I’m working on shifting this.

What I’ve learned from the health concerns is a renewed appreciation for the very real mystery of life and a willingness to at least try to surrender to that mystery (some days, at least). I also feel even greater empathy for my clients and others dealing with health concerns.

As far as the bigotry, racism, and outright hatred that surfaced with a vengeance after our insane election, I felt embarrassed and grief-stricken and disappointed in myself. I had to admit that I’ve been naive, complacent, and lazy over the years, allowing way too many inappropriate comments, jokes, and behaviors to go unchecked in my presence. My inspiring godson is African American, my sweet goddaughter is African American/Native American/European American – I need to be fierce and protect them, which means I need to start speaking up and challenging beliefs that say they are somehow less valuable than other people.

And as far as the worldwide violence, I guess I’m going to keep this quote close by in the new year, which reminds me to keep working on myself, and trust I can somehow make a difference:

“You must purge yourself before finding faults in others.
When you see a mistake in somebody else, try to find if you are making the same mistake.
This is the way to take judgment and to turn it into improvement.
Do not look at others’ bodies with envy or with superiority.
All people are born with different constitutions.
Never compare with others.
Each one’s capacities are a function of his or her internal strength.
Know your capacities and continually improve upon them.”
B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life

Claudine’s Desired Feeling/s

Last year I determined that I wanted to feel more playful and adventurous, and I succeeded! Travel, reading fiction just for FUN, game nights, dance parties with friends, karaoke bars, Zumba, paddle boarding, snorkeling, snowboarding, hang gliding, and on and on.

FYI, I really know how to have fun.

This year I want to feel brave and free. I have no idea yet why these words are resonating , but next year at this time I’m sure I’ll be able to tell you. (P.S. Play and adventure are staying close by in the new year!)

There you go. Way more than you wanted to know about me. Now what about you?

Love, Claudine

Fudgy Holiday Goodness

Happy holidays, everyone! ‘Tis the season for all things festive and magical and cheery and sweet (interlaced with stress, fatigue, and nasty beefs with Old Man winter – but hey, we don’t have to talk about that right now).

I sure hope you’re finding ways to soak up the wonder and joy of the season and that you are spending time with the people in your life that light up your insides with holiday sparkle.

December is my slowest health coaching month out of the year. This may come as a shocker, but it turns out not many people are interested in talking about the warming, grounding properties of root veggies or how sugar sabotages your immune system or how to follow the Elimination/Provocation Diet in the last few weeks of the year. Hard to believe, right?

So rather than delude myself and pretend anyone is interested in what I’d have to say about health right now, I thought I’d add to the merriment by sharing a recipe for fudgy goodness that makes me salivate like a puppy.

A client passed this along a few years back, and it falls in line beautifully with one of the guidelines I use in my work: Upgrade your food whenever possible.

Food is a touchy subject. Nobody likes to have his or her food messed with, let alone taken away, so I do my best to help my clients find “upgrades” for the dishes, snacks, and sweet treats they can’t imagine living without. Usually by swapping out an ingredient here or there or buying a higher quality version of something they enjoy (dark chocolate vs. crappy chocolate), we can uncover a win-win for one’s taste buds AND one’s health.

I love when that happens.

This recipe is a great example of a fudge upgrade. (Confession: I’ve never actually made real fudge so I’m not 100% sure what goes into it, but given the way my mouth feels fuzzy and my taste buds go manic after I eat a piece, I think it’s a safe bet there’s enough sugar in it for a neighborhood.)

THIS recipe may not taste like traditional fudge, but it’s so satisfying. I’ve been making it pretty much every week in December, and as a result, it’s been easy to pass up traditional sugary sweets. Enjoy!

 

Fudgy Goodness

Yield: 15 small servings

1/2 cup almond butter

1/4 cup coconut butter (manna)

2 Tablespoons coconut oil

2 mashed Medjool dates

1 Tablespoon cinnamon

1-2 Tablespoons cocoa powder

2 Tablespoons hemp seeds

1/4-1/2 teaspoon sea salt

 

Combine ingredients in small pan and melt together over low heat. Stir together while heating, working to mash the dates more while stirring.

When mixture becomes liquid, pour into a small 5 x 7 glass dish or pan lined with parchment paper (you can also simply grease a pan if you don’t have parchment paper). Place in fridge and cool until it begins to harden – about 1/2 hour.

Cut into individual pieces and store in the fridge or freezer – they will melt if left out at room temperature. And you might be tempted to eat them all at once!

If you decide to make some fudgy goodness, please leave a comment and let me know what you think. Hearing from you makes my heart sing.

Love, Claudine

A Digestive Superhero

This week I’m excited to introduce you to a digestive superhero I know and love, a veritable Wonder Woman of digestive health: psyllium husk.

Most of you know I love teaching people how to support their digestive health. Talking about poop is as normal to me as talking about the weather, and I feel confident this little seed could help you have such brag-worthy b.m.’s that you’ll start enjoying poop conversations as much as I do.

It’s one of those tools I like to keep in my back pocket, especially when I’m working with folks with constipation. It rarely lets me down.

Psyllium, or psyllium husk powder, comes from a shrub-like plant and is chock full of fiber, both soluble and insoluble. Think of psyllium less as food for you and more as food for the millions of bacteria that live in your gut. It’s vitally important we pay attention to and support these bacterial friends since they profoundly influence so many aspects of our health: immune function, mood, weight, digestive well-being, and much more.

In other words, psyllium can help build a healthy and robust bacterial ecosystem, which is critical to overall health.

When the bacteria in our gut feast on all the great fiber in psyllium, they produce a short chain fatty acid called butyrate, which is shown to increase insulin sensitivity and have anti-inflammatory effects, in addition to improving digestion. Furthermore, as this little husk makes its way down the intestinal tract, it absorbs water and forms a spongy gel, which adds bulk to stool, scrubs the intestinal tract clean, and binds to toxins, ushering them out of the body through well-formed stool.

Think of it as an “intestinal soft scrub.”

And yes, while I especially love using psyllium to jumpstart a stalled digestive system, it can also be helpful for those folks on the other end of the digestive spectrum – those who struggle with diarrhea. Because psyllium absorbs water and bulks up, it can help slow down or stop diarrhea.

It can speed things up, slow things down, bulk things out – it’s a digestive superhero!

In addition to enjoying bulkier, more robust stools (yes, these are enjoyable), side benefits of psyllium husk can also include:

  • more stable blood sugar: in general, fiber helps slow down the absorption of sugars into one’s blood stream, which is pretty much always a good thing. Stable blood sugar is a key building block of health.
  • lowering LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol numbers by inhibiting its absorption in your intestines
  • feeling fuller longer, thereby curbing the urge to overeat
  • weight loss, which is inevitable when you start clearing out toxins and built-up stool
  • clearer skin: psyllium husk can help move yeast and fungus out of your body, helping to clear rashes or other skin issues that have been exacerbated by these conditions

So, are you going to give it a try? What do you have to lose? Probably just some old, impacted fecal matter if you ask me, and that will certainly put an extra bounce in your step.

Keep in Mind

For those ready to experiment with this digestive superhero right away, keep the following tips in mind:

  1. Psyllium should not be treated as a replacement for the beneficial fiber you get when eating fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. It’s a SUPPLEMENT. Make sure you’re consuming plenty of whole foods daily. (FYI: 10-12 servings is considered the gold standard these days.)
  2. Drink plenty of water when you take psyllium – at least a full 8-ounce glass. Because psyllium bulks up, it does have the potential to cause an obstruction if someone is chronically dehydrated. Obviously that’s the last thing we want! Staying hydrated is simply a foundational building block of health, so aim for 50-70 ounces of water daily.
  3. Gradually build up the amount you take, starting with just a 1/2 teaspoon a day and increasing to no more than 2 Tablespoons daily. If the intestinal tract has become lazy, it can take some time to get it moving again. Be gentle with your body.
  4. Finally, if you take medications or other vitamin/mineral supplements, consume psyllium either an hour before or two hours after you take your medications, vitamins, or minerals. It can interfere with absorption if taken to close together.

How to Get Your Psylly On

Like any new food or supplement, psyllium can feel a bit mysterious, but it’s actually pretty easy to get into your body.

Most of the time I simply add it to an 8-ounce glass of water and drink it down. That’s likely the easiest method, and it ensures you’re taking it with enough water, which I mentioned is very important.

Other options include adding it to yogurt or smoothies, but you’ll want to make sure to send it down the hatch quickly if you add it to a smoothie. It starts gelling up within minutes and will make your smoothie pretty darn thick. Some people don’t like that texture.

Are you somebody who likes to make protein bars or power balls? You can often sneak in a couple tablespoons of psyllium powder to your recipe, and chances are you won’t even notice it’s in there. Psyllium acts as a binder, too, so it can even help hold gluten-free products together, which is a bonus.

If you have other ideas, please share in the comments section! I always love ideas and feedback!

So what do you say? Are you ready to get your psylly on? If you do, make sure to let me know how it goes.

Love, Claudine