10 Habits of Health

Spring is a fantastic time to take a pause and evaluate what old, unhelpful habits you might have slowly developed over the winter, and get clear on what new, life-giving habits you might want to develop.

 

Our brains are designed so that we cannot just stop doing something.  If we have been in the habit of doing something: drinking wine every night with supper, getting lost in Netflix after a long day, having dessert each evening, then we cannot just decide one day to stop doing it, and expect to be successful.  Maybe some people can, those with iron-will and incredible discipline, but I am not one of those people.  Plus, anytime I have been successful through these means, I am maybe successful for a few months, if I am lucky, but in those months, I am miserable, and every ounce of my effort is consumed trying not to walk down that habitual path.  So eventually, I get tired and worn down and give up, falling back into the comfort of the familiar habit.

 

What works best is for us to be able to turn to a new habit that directly replaces our old habit.  If we have something to distract our brains, and we do this repetitively in the place of doing the “old thing”, eventually we form a new neurological pathway, which becomes our brain’s version of the new habit.

Take a moment to determine what old habits you might want to do away with, and then perhaps peruse the list below to determine if one of these Habits of Health appeals to you and seems it could be a doable new habit for you.

 

What follows are 10 things that if we all did these things every day, we would feel amazing.  Trust me, I know!  I am living proof.  I want to emphasize that, yes, being healthy takes work.  It takes discipline, some sacrifice and effort.  That being said, when these practices come from a place of self-love and worthiness, that is to say, when we see these practices as gifts we are offering ourselves as means to achieve good energy, a balanced mood, a healthy body, then they feel much less onerous and much more joyful.

A powerful reframe for me, around terms such as “discipline” and “sacrifice”, as these can often also conjure up feelings of onerousness, is to think of the roots of these words: “discipline” from the Latin for disciple.  And to become a disciple unto one’s Self.  When we are dedicated to our own health and well-being, we can become our best selves and serve others: our family, friends, workplace and community from a place of fullness.  Serving ourselves, serves others.  And “sacrifice”, to make sacred.  We make our lives sacred as we gift ourselves healthy food, healthy rest, healthy movement, to name a few.

In any case, please read on for these 10 Habits and see what you can commit to incorporating today and every day.

 

  1. Optimize your digestive enzymes: sit down when you are eating, chew your food 10-20 bites per mouthful, set down your fork in between. You can also include 1 Tbsp. of apple cider vinegar in a little water before you eat and be sure to heap 2-4 Tbsp. of fermented foods onto your plate.
  2. Practice deep breathing. 10-15 mindful breaths 3x/d, a great breath practice is the “box” breath: inhaling for a count of 4, holding for 4, exhaling for 4 and holding for 4 and repeating. This is incredibly effective for balancing the nervous system, optimizing brain chemistry, and downregulating stress hormones.
  3. Promote regular healthy elimination: add at a minimum of 2 Tbsp of fiber on top of your regular dietary intake daily and add 1-2 capsules of probiotics. I love ground flax seeds, aiming for 2-4 Tbsp. per day, along with 25-50 billion CFUs of good bacteria.
  4. Dry brush your skin before showers and baths. At the end of your shower or bath do 3 cycles of hot/ cold (warm/ cool) water to end, finishing with cold water.
  5. Focus on daily detoxification: Start your day with a mug of warm lemon water and drink 2-3 L of water and herbal teas daily.
  6. Emphasize rhythm in your life: Ensure you are going to bed at the same time every night (ideally between 9:30 and 10 PM) and waking around the same time every morning (ideally between 6 and 7:30 AM); and that your meals and snacks are consumed at roughly the same time each day, on a schedule of every 3.5 to 4 hours, with a minimum 12-hour overnight fast. The body loves rhythm!
  7. Make a commitment to eliminate sugar, processed foods, caffeine, alcohol, non-organic meat, and non-organic dairy products from your diet. Work to clean out the chemical-based cleaning, cosmetic and lawn care products from your home (dispose of safely – never down the drain, and call poison control if uncertain).
  8. Take your recommended supplements daily, including your 1 Tbsp (heaping) of greens powder daily (to give you the nutrients found in 8-10 servings of vegetables.) Or commit to 4-6 cups leafy greens, or best yet, do both! Put either into a smoothie for a quick, easy, and nutritious morning meal. Protect and balance the nervous system and adrenal glands – 1 Tbsp of liquid Calcium: Magnesium or straight magnesium and 1 tsp of high-quality liquid fish oil daily.
  9. Exercise – At least 30 minutes per day – walking, stretching, weight training, swimming…anything goes! Find something you enjoy doing and stick with it.
  10. Work on your self-worth – surround yourself with positive energy, seek support, read books that enhance your self-belief, let go of beliefs that no longer serve you. #1) practice self compassion and GRATITUDE.

 

Please don’t get too overwhelmed by this list.  Pull one or two things from it to start with and incorporate them, the ones that feel doable and that you feel you could be successful at.  Once they become part of your daily habits and you can do them without much extra effort, pick another one or two.  This is truly the way we become proficient at living a healthy life.

If you would like to learn more about these habits, please listen to the interview I had with Sherry Lee earlier this winter.  My full series can be found at http://www.drzepp.com/in-the-media.html, and you will find the interview to the 10 Habits in the 7th Segment that aired January 25th, on physical health.

My Supplement Regime

I am often asked what I personally take for supplements, and what I give to my kiddos.  Sometimes people are surprised by my answers, for a number of reasons.

A main one is that many people still hold the belief that if one eats relatively well, they shouldn’t have to take any supplements.  And people believe me to be healthy and one of those people.  Which, well, I am!  I do consider myself healthy, largely because I take really good care of myself.

I practice self-love in the forms of daily prayer and meditation time.  I engage in daily physical activity from a place of self-kindness.  I try my very best to get a minimum of seven hours of sleep a night, preferring to hit the 8 hour mark where I can, and making up the difference when I have the opportunity to have a bit of a sleep-in or a nap on a weekend, on vacation.  I eat well, smoothies every morning packed as filled with nutrient dense foods as possible, including several scoops of various “superfoods” as I will discuss in a bit.

Because I mostly practice intermittent fasting, which is leaving a 12-18 hour window between evening dinner and morning breakfast the following day, my smoothie is generally consumed mid-morning and due to the sheer volume of goodness I attempt to pack in there, it holds me well until dinner time.  Occasionally I might sneak in a mid-afternoon snack of some nuts or a homemade power bar or ball type of treat (I’ll include a recipe!).  Suppers are for sure several cups of mixed organic greens, some sort of protein (usually vegetarian-based or fish, but sometimes chicken and every once in awhile a good beef or bison burger), a few giant forkfuls of fermented foods (kimchi or sauerkraut), generous drizzles of flax oil, sometimes a little goat feta… you get the gist.  Healthy, right?!

That being said YES, I do supplement as well.  Main reason is that I love having the extra insurance that I am getting the right amounts of all the micronutrients on a daily basis.  I always take a good quality multivitamin that has extra B-vitamins and antioxidant support.  I take daily fish oils, in liquid form, adrenal support (as I am on the go, a lot, and have much on my plate, I like knowing that my nervous system and adrenals have some extra TLC to keep me healthy, energized and sane), liquid calcium:magnesium, Vitamin D+K, Reishi mushroom (because I love the medicinal mushrooms for all of their amazing properties: healthy immunity, hormones, hair, etc.).  I toss in iron and B12 periodically as I don’t eat a lot of meat, I give myself a few squirts of liquid liposomal Coenzyme Q10 and Vitamin C, for mitochondrial and immune health.  And my smoothies… I mentioned those, right?

Filled with Greens First (greens powder), Nutribiotic brand fermented rice protein, Maca powder (more adrenal and hormonal support), several tablespoons of ground flax seeds (love ground flax!!), cacao nibs, astragalus powder, green tea powder, moringa leaf powder and mucuna powder when I can find it.

I use a base of frozen berries, 1 cup of water, 1 cup of unsweetened non-dairy milk or non-dairy chocolate milk and a chunk of banana to sweeten it a little, and dump in a scoop of each of the above goodies.

I love my mid-morning shakes!  They keep me full, satisfied, and energized throughout the day.  Because they have so many great nutrients in them, I don’t crave much and I just feel so ‘clean’.  It is of course important to be your own inner detective and find out what mixture of goodness agrees with you and your body, and of course any of our NDs can help you out and give you personalized suggestions at any point in time.

Maybe next blog I will do about Superfoods!! These are essentially nutrient dense foods that come in powdered forms that can be used to fortify what you are already eating and drinking, many of these concoctions I mentioned above as part of my smoothie extravaganza fall into the superfood category.

So, consider your investment in your supplement regime an investment in yourself!  And pop these little nuggets knowing you are in good company, and are engaging in quality self-care.  Of course, they are but condiments, and they need to rest on the “main course” of sleep/ rest, exercise, meditation/ prayer, laughter, outdoor time, food, community that make up health.

Breaking the Vicious Cycle

Each month my turn to write my blog post rolls around, and each month I often feel stumped for what I am going to write about.  This drives me crazy!!  As someone whose head is otherwise constantly spinning with thoughts and ideas and inspiration of various sorts, I am perplexed and annoyed when all of a sudden, I feel as though I am staring inside my own mind at a blank wall.

What I have learned, after years of practice, is not to get too caught up in the annoyance.  Not to resist the irritation, and yet not to let myself get riled up by it either.  In fact, what I have learned to do is to lean into it all and then to simply breathe, get curious, and see what arises.

So, you see, in this exact moment as I write this, I have a choice.  I can choose to: get frustrated about not knowing what to write about; worried that I am not going to make my deadline to get this to my colleague for posting; scared that inspiration will never strike me again; self-defeatist and start beating myself up that I have nothing to say and am a horrible communicator and I am best just to resign myself from the blog post rotation (can you relate to any of these wild thoughts??); or, I can lean in to the symphony of thoughts and feelings.

I can simply stop.  Breathe.  Notice the frustration, fear, panic, angst. But rather than resist it, I can metaphorically wrap my arms around it.  Acknowledge, love and accept it, and thus myself, for feeling what I feel.  Feel how tired it makes me feel.  How underneath the edge of anxiety I can feel some sadness, some tears springing to the surface.  I can feel a bit of vulnerability coming forth, honouring the small still voices of worry and fear, and if I can breathe and lean a little further in, I can start to relax.

Simultaneously noticing the voices of judgment that want to spring forth and tell me how ridiculous this is, how this ‘feeling’ thing will do nothing to getting me towards my goal of writing a blog post, how I need to stuff this all down and just get to work; attempting to pull me back out of this relaxation response I was beginning to fall into through my breath.  And so, with this next barrage of thoughts too, rather than follow them, I notice them, honour them, give them a voice, surround them with love and patience and those metaphorical hugs, and then feel that feeling settle back into my nervous system: the melting, surrendering into peacefulness, vulnerability.

Perhaps you can feel it yourself, too, this rollercoaster effect, just by reading these words, and can relate to similar rides you might take in your own life as a result of your own mind.  When the mindset of pressure, judgment and expectation dominates, it winds us up, creates a stress response and pulls us into a state of panic.  Until we remember the breath, and to lean into the uncomfortable feelings, resisting nothing, and engaging the mindset of calm, relaxation, acceptance, thereby creating a relaxation response and stirring the inner feeling of inspiration and possibility.

And up and down we go, with our bodies following our thoughts, until that time we retrain ourselves not to attach so strongly to the fear-based amygdala-activating thoughts, and we cultivate the habit of leaning in, being with, breathing and acceptance.  Like riding a bike, we can all learn to do it, and like riding a bike, it will take practice however our nervous systems can be trained over time, not to forget.

As I leaned into my own blank wall of a mind, allowed myself to acknowledge the impatience, frustration, fear, etc. that was there (as I described earlier), basically breathed and loved and hugged myself through this, then the words, as you are reading, started to flow.  And they flowed back to this concept on the Nervous System, one that I risk sounding like a broken record about, as it is my passion and the focus of my work, both for myself personally (as someone who has had a handful of nervous system/ mental health challenges over the years; acquiring labels from anxiety to depression to ocd/ disordered eating/ body image manifestation) and in my practice.  Because in fact, the nervous system really does trump everything.

The act of writing (or any other inspired process) takes place in the right hemisphere of the brain, the creative brain, which can really truly be best accessed when our bodies are in the parasympathetic nervous system response, aka the relaxation response.  This is the opposing system to the sympathetic nervous system response, aka the stress/ fight or flight response.  With this latter nervous system predominant our brains and bodies are concerned solely about survival: we subconsciously tense our muscles, increase our heart rate, blood pressure, and breath rate (shallow and short) and we start to sweat and perhaps even feel a little anxious as our bodies prepare to fight or to flee.  When we are not actually fighting an enemy or running away from danger, what happens is that we begin to fight ourselves and run away from the task at hand, or our goal, whatever that may be.

In my case, writing an article.  In yours it might be choosing a new more nutritious way of eating, cooking a healthy meal, deciding to implement a workout program, giving up a detrimental health habit (such as too much screen time, smoking, sugar, overwork, etc.), incorporating a supplement protocol, or even writing a blog article!!

Everything we do (other than ACTUALLY fighting or fleeing!) will be more effective if we can do it from a place whereby the PNS is dominant over the SNS.  We absolutely need both in activation, as the SNS is what actually allows us to get sh** done, however if we are constantly panicked and burnt out and anxious as our starting place, we really aren’t that effective.

This is because the choice to act from inspiration, rather than stress, is far more sustainable, and creates a positive, constructive, self-perpetuating cycle of success, thereby breaking the vicious cycle of stress, negative self-talk, punishing/ violent “motivation”, poor personal choices and destructive, addictive self-soothing but also self-sabotaging habits and patterns.  I am sure you know the latter all too well.

There are a multitude of ways to help your brain and body shift gears and learn this new state of being and fall into the health-promoting, constructive cycle.  I will include a few of my favorites here and as you read through them, see which ones may sound intriguing, curious and enticing to you.  Then try them!  Reach out as we have an incredible resource team here at Prairie Sky health who can help you:

  • Mindfulness practices, prayer and meditation
  • Journaling
  • Time spent alone and in nature
  • Movement: exercise, especially time spent outdoors in very beneficial
  • Supplements: GABA, l-theanine, lemon balm, passionflower, B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, 5-HTP, lavender, hibiscus, etc.
  • Essential oils: frankincense, lavender, mint
  • Nutrition: 40:30:30 diet whereby 40% of your foods come from carbohydrates in the form of: whole grains (rice, quinoa, oats), starchy (sweet potatoes, plantains, beets, carrots, etc) and non-starchy (green leafy) veggies, fruits and berries; 30% of your foods come from proteins (eggs, chicken, fish, lentils, chickpeas, beans, wild game, naturally raised beef/ bison, raw nuts and seeds); 30% of your foods come from good quality fats (avocado, coconut, olive oil, flax oil, hemp oil, raw nuts and seeds also fit into this category, etc.)
  • The “Mediterranean Diet” is one of my favorite diets for balancing the nervous system and feeding the adrenal glands.
  • Avoidance of high stress foods like caffeine, sugar, alcohol, processed foods, breads, cakes, cookies, etc. is important as these are stressful on the body and perpetuate the fight or flight response.
  • Reiki, Body Talk, Acupuncture or other energetic healing practices
  • Physical practices like massage therapy, chiropractic or osteopathy

I have spoken on the various aspects of health and what one can do to support each crucial aspect in the radio series I did with Sherry Lee on CJTR earlier this winter.  I have also spoken to her on this subject specifically: “The Nervous System Trumps Everything”, and all of these episode links can be found on my website

If you would like to learn more and immerse yourself in learning this new language of health.  By all means, reach out any time for more information, to any of us at the clinic, and we would be honoured and overjoyed to work with you on your own health journey towards greater health, joy and peace.

Blessings, and thanks for reading!

The Power of Surrender

So interestingly enough last month when I set out to write my blog post article, which you can read here, about what you can do to support yourself should you happen to come down with COVID, little did I know that just shy of a week later I would test positive myself!

Seriously!  I had just finished saying to someone earlier that week that I thought I must have some sort of natural super-immunity because no one in my family had tested positive or come down with symptoms and truth-be-told, our lives were more or less unchanged since the early days of the pandemic, relatively speaking anyway.  Both my husband and I have jobs that take us outside of the home and myself as a Naturopathic Doctor who prefers in-person to telemedicine consultation, and he, as a chiropractor, quite obviously cannot do his work virtually.  We chose to send our kids to school as long as in-person learning was available.  We kept my parents in our bubble since March 2020.  I would meet with friends for long walks outside in order to maintain my community.  Once gyms opened up I resumed workouts outside of the home, following protocols and keeping responsible with hand-washing, masking and appropriate physical distancing.  I did have the first two vaccines back last spring, but opted not to get the booster. Truth be told hoping for the opportunity to gain some natural immunity.

Given the amount of potential exposure I had had, and the fact that my son’s classroom had about 6 cases since January 2022 alone, I was certain I, and my family, must have had the antibodies to COVID as none of us seemed to be affected.  Because I do work with people in-person in the clinic and in my workshops, I was also mindful to rapid test two to three times per week, just to be sure I wasn’t harbouring viral antigens that may cause disease in someone else.  For myself, I wasn’t concerned, I just really didn’t want to be a vector for someone else that perhaps felt differently than I.

In any case, it was a Friday morning and I woke up feeling a little off.  The test I had taken Wednesday morning was negative, however with the strange sleep I had had I decided to test again.  At first it appeared to be negative so I assumed I was fighting something, just not COVID, so after the 15 minutes I went to have a shower and begin my day getting ready for work.  The shower felt extra good on my extra weary muscles that were now starting to feel quite leaden.  Beyond what I would have expected, despite the strenuous exercise I am known to engage in.  I continued my morning prep, increasingly feeling feverish and weak.  No cough, no sore throat but definitely a headache starting.  I was just evaluating how I would proceed with my work day when I walked downstairs and glanced down at the test cassette I had not yet tossed.  I did a double-take.  A very faint pink line was visible beside the T!!  I was stunned.  I immediately took another test then went upstairs again to debrief with Dan, definitely walking very slowly and pulling myself up the banister as the leaden feeling continued to become more pronounced.  Sure enough this second test showed positive within the 15 min. window, indicating that the viral antigen load had increased in my system to the point that it was immediately picked up.  I messaged the clinic letting them know I couldn’t see anyone in person that day and asking them to rebook those that preferred not to consult with me virtually.  Thankfully a large number chose to rebook, as it turns out I was to feel pretty rotten that day!

The point of this blog wasn’t meant to be to give you a play-by-play with my foray with COVID, though I think that it does make for a bit of an interesting story!  Really what I wanted to get at was the importance of surrender in the healing process, based on my physiological knowledge but also my personal lived experience.

Thankfully, prior to my positive test, I did have going for me that I held no fear or anxiety about getting COVID.  It’s not that I don’t have a healthy respect for the virus, I absolutely do.  I have a friend whose mother tragically perished as a result of the infection and have numerous patients whom have lost family members to it’s virulence.  I also appreciate the potential for long-term effects after having had the illness.  I also feel extremely confident in how healthy I keep my body, and in saying that I am not also under the illusion that I may still not be susceptible to serious illness.  I have a congenital heart condition that could predispose me to a more serious complication, so again, even with my own health I am not flippant about risk.  I have studied the effects on fear on the immune system in great detail and know intimately how the stress response interferes with a robust immune response.  Being in “fight or flight” mode can create the internal physiological conditions to allow a virus to take over.  So I was already in a ‘winning’ position against this virus.

I also believe in the healing power of the body and I have learned over the almost five decades of my life how to tune into, listen to and honour my body and what it needs from me in order to assist it to heal (be it something physical like a bruised tailbone, dislocated shoulder, two vaginal births, multiple ankle sprains, etc. or something mental-emotional like anxiety or depression).  I was actually a bit excited about putting all of this into practice yet again, in the face of a new challenge.

The first day, that leaden feeling intensified and I don’t know I have ever felt the level of exhaustion I felt that day.  My head was so heavy that opening my eyes hurt.  Reading was not an option, so forget using this as a chance to get caught up on my book pile!  I had no interest in watching anything, the thought of the blinking glare of a screen did nothing to appeal to me.  Instead, lying on the couch, sweating it out, drifting in and out of sleep, fasting, sipping water and occasionally turning my attention towards an audio book for a few minutes at a time was EXACTLY what my body was calling for.

Rather than fight it, resist it, worry about it or ‘try’ to do anything about it, I just surrendered and allowed my body to do what it knew what it needed for healing.  To just not move.  To rest.  To sleep.  To sip.  To fast.  It was a beautiful time of giving myself fully over to the miraculous healing ability of the body.  Thankfully I would drift up and into some energy and brain power just in time for the few appointments that had chosen to connect with me virtually that day. Then, I would collapse back onto my couch in exhaustion and repair.  After a 12 hour sleep that night, I was starting to feel somewhat more energized.  Reading became interesting to me, at least for a few minutes at a time, and I could focus on my audiobooks for longer stretches.  We have the good fortune to have an infrared sauna in our home so I spent several hours in that on Saturday morning, followed by a contrast hot-cold shower, ending with cold.  I felt human enough to head off for my PCR test (yes, it was positive), then come back home to continue my job of healing.  I camped out in bed that afternoon, having had to cancel all of my commitments for the weekend I was able to participate in a friend’s online birthday gathering I would have otherwise missed, I had the chance to finish an online course I was working on.  My husband got a chance to be primary parent, and in charge of meals for the week, this was a lovely bonus. Thankfully my kids are old enough that they are pretty self-sufficient as well and didn’t require me the way they would have had they been infants or toddlers so my self-isolation in the house was only tough on us due to the fact we couldn’t hug and cuddle and read together like we like to do.

Sure, a little difficult, however I knew it would pass and resisting this reality would only make it harder!  So more surrendering, accepting things exactly as they were.  Not pushing away disappointment for what I had to miss, but leaning into the opportunity that was being given to me, knowing that if I were to fight, try to overdo it when my body clearly didn’t want me to, get caught up in worrying I would never get better, etc. then I really truly would prolong my illness.  As it was by bedtime Saturday I was feeling better, still had a long sleep, engaged in lots of self care Sunday with more sauna time, lots of broths and hydration and a return of my appetite and the desire to make myself a smoothie.  By Sunday suppertime I felt tiptop.  Like I had never been ill.  By Monday I felt better than I had before, I think in large part owing to the significant chance I had had to rest and let my immune system do its “upgrade” by mounting the fever and fighting the infection.  Much is purified and strengthened in the body as a result of a successful dance with an antigen, like a virus.

I absolutely know that each and every person that has had COVID experiences it much differently and that we truly have no idea how and why some people get more ill than others.  Is it weight? Activity level? Blood pressure? Blood sugar? Co-morbid health conditions? Nutrient status? Anxiety levels? Fear of illness? Level of exhaustion/ burn-out prior to infection?

It’s any and every, really.  If I were to speculate on how and why I had a positive experience with the virus I would say it boils down to my ability to surrender.  When we surrender (which does not mean resign!!), our bodies drop into the parasympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as the “relaxation response”.  This is the opposite of the aforementioned sympathetic nervous system or “fight or flight” response.  In the relaxation response our bodies are able to rest, digest, heal and reproduce (think healthy libido, hormone balance); all the thing we need to be able to do when we aren’t running away from danger.  Note that “heal” is part of the relaxation response.

To be really clear and make it incredibly simple, we do not heal when we are constantly in fight or flight mode.  It’s that simple.  And that’s not just about being busy.  That is also about RESISTING.  You have heard the expression “what you resist, persists”?  well this is not some woo-woo magical thing.  This is physiology.  When our brains are in resistance due to fear, anxiety, judgment, attachment (wanting/ not wanting), etc. our bodies are geared up for fight or flight.  When we are arguing with reality, thinking things should be different, worrying about what we have to do, what action we have to take, etc., well, we are in stress mode.

The opposite of this is surrender.  This is the ability to lean into reality.  As I said this is not passive resignation, not even close, instead we just give up resisting.

I didn’t passively resign myself into covid, I actively honoured the subtle things my body was requesting of me: no coffee, no screen, no book, yes water, yes broth, yes sleep.  I surrendered to my reality (the couch was my best friend) and took action as I was inspired to do so (the gentle nudge to go sauna when the time was right).  I have this little strategy I use and teach: the 5As.  Acknowledge, Accept, Alchemize, Ask and Act.

First we acknowledge what is going on for us: I’m tired, I’m sad, I’m sick, I’m emotional.  And then we accept it.  Even if we don’t like it, we accept it.  Because, really what is the point of resisting.  It is what it is! And resisting will just create the stress response to keep us stuck.  So, just accept.  Right then this acceptance, this turning towards ourselves and whatever might be going on with us creates the 3rd A: Alchemize.  Like being gifted with a big hug that you can just collapse into that seems to make everything better, the process of true acceptance is like that and it creates this alchemy within our body where we move out of fight or flight and into rest, digest, heal and reproduce.  Brilliant! Right?

Then.. this is where surrender and resignation are different.  In surrender, we turn to A #4 from a state of peace and relaxation, due of course to the alchemy we created, and we ask.  This may be we ask ourselves, our body, our inner wisdom or intuition, like I did.  Or it may be that we are guided to reach out and ask someone else for help: a trusted friend, spouse, parent, child, physician, healer, God, google, really anyone that we feel intuitively called to ask for help and support to get us through the challenge we are faced with.  This itself can be tough as we live in a staunchly (and pathologically) independent culture where we are so willing to help others but somehow feel it is unacceptable to ask for assistance ourselves.  Let’s just say it is high time to break this bad habit.  Because truly, though we are the only ones that can do our healing… we cannot do it alone.

Once we land on the next right most loving step in the course of action offered to us in the Ask step, well, then we take action when the time is right.

Acknowledge + Accept + Alchemize + Ask + Act = Surrender

By way of this simple equation, we have all the tools we need for vital health of mind, body and spirit.

COVID Support

My blog post this week isn’t an original, that is to say much of what I am including is from one of my teachers and mentors, Dr. Lissa Rankin MD. She wrote this great article a couple of weeks ago that I felt very much worth sharing with you all, as I value her perspectives and suggestions very much and they echo my own personal and professional sentiments.

And, well, they are just really well articulated and evidence-based, while still keeping at the forefront of our minds that one of the biggest viruses is fear and divide and that if we fall victim to the tug-of-war going on in the world rather than settling into listening to others, attempting to gain understanding and compassion for all, and working on our own fears, well we are contributing to the fear, violence, disease and unrest.

In any case, you can read her full article here

and are some key points I pulled from her article, in the hopes these will be empowering to you and assist you in making some love-based, responsibility-driven choices for yourself, your family and our community:

First of all, Covid is here to stay. It is endemic. It is possible or even likely that we will all get Covid at some point, so we can’t wring our hands or isolate in lockdowns forever, but I think it’s worth watching your local case numbers and adjusting your behavior depending on what’s happening in your local community. This current surge will likely peak and fall quickly since Omicron is so contagious. It is likely to blow through rapidly and then burn out just as quickly. The best we can do is watch our local case numbers. When they are low, we can play and relax more. When they spike, we can hunker down for a phase. The main reason to make those sacrifices is to avoid hospitals getting flooded. If your local hospital has no beds, unnecessary deaths will happen because there will be no room for heart attacks, strokes, car crashes, or other infections, much less Covid. So we can’t just say “Well, Covid is mild so we can just let ‘er rip.” If we care about preventing unnecessary deaths and have empathy for those who might lose their lives because we failed to make choices to help prevent those deaths, we need to make sure we have adequate staffing and adequate open beds in our hospitals. Otherwise, people will die needlessly of all kinds of medical conditions, and that’s tragic.

 

That said, mental health is an equally valid consideration here. My friend who runs the psych hospital at Harvard recently told me there were 84 people waiting in ER for psych beds. The hospital is also full of mental health workers, including psychiatrists. So our systems- inner and outer- are buckling under all this. Our minds are cracking under the strain and trauma of all this, and our mental health workers are burned out and overwhelmed, as are our front-line hospital workers in ERs, ICU’s and clinics. People die from mental health issues too- suicide, overdose, side effects of addiction. So take care of your emotional needs, your needs for touch, your needs for companionship. And if you can find and afford a good trauma therapist, consider yourself blessed and use that resource liberally. If you can’t, do what you can to find alternatives, even if you’re joining a 12 Step group on Zoom.

 

Now is a good time to call upon your spiritual practices, not as a spiritual bypass but as a kind of energy transfusion, as a way to fill yourself with life force so you can bolster your resilience and keep on keepin’ on. This is why we practice- for the times we really need it. Use your meditation, yoga, tai chi, qigong, contemplative prayer, art therapy, dance therapy, nature therapy, hiking, earth rituals, and other nourishing practices that uplift you and keep you feeling hopeful when things might start to feel hopeless.

 

Continue any prevention strategies you’ve been employing. As I say, “Germ theory AND Terrain theory!” We can keep our terrain optimized as best we can while also trying to prevent unnecessary exposure. Personally, I take my Vitamin C and drink my green juice and engage in general healthy behaviors, like hiking in nature every day, doing some yoga stretches, meditating, getting 8 hours of sleep, and eating a high nutrient diet. I’m not going crazy popping expensive supplements, given how mild most Covid cases seem to be at this point among the vaccinated, but it’s fine if you’re doing so and can afford to keep doing so.

 

If you do get Covid, here’s what my most trusted functional medicine doctor Rachel Carlton Abrams recommends.

  • Vit. D 5000 IU daily
  • Vit. C 1000 mg 3 times daily
  • Zinc 20-30 mg twice daily.

Start at least some of these immediately:

  • Quercetin
  • Curcumin
  • Green Tea
  • NAC
  • Resveratrol
  • VIt. A
  • Elderberry
  • Fish oil
  • Melatonin 3-15 mg before bed, which also helps with sleep.

The Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) has a good write-up on natural treatment and prevention

We at Prairie Sky Integrative Health are grateful to be able to be here, in the Regina community, to provide you with whatever services you might need in order to help you through this pandemic time.

Need suggestions for general immune support?  We are here.  Feeling anxious, stressed, depressed and having difficulties coping with it all?  We are here.  Wondering about suggestions post-COVID, especially with any long-haul symptoms?  We are here.  Wanting support pre- and post-vaccine?  We are here.

Whatever your COVID-related fallout, as we all know and have experienced it in some way shape or form, please know you can turn to us and we will help you through.  We offer in-person, phone or video appointments.

Wishing you all a safe and healthy pandemic, and the ability to mine the gold from these potentially tough times.

Holiday Menu

From our homes to yours, we would like to share our favourite recipes as you prepare for your holiday feast.  From all of us, we wish you a very happy Christmas season and many blessings in 2022!

With love, Brittany, Michelle, Julie and Allison

 

Apple Cider & Herb Brined Turkey 

From Nourishing Meals, one of Dr. Ziegler’s favourite cookbooks.

You will want to have your turkey thawed and ready for brining 24 to 72 hours before you plan on cooking it. Pictured here is a 15-pound turkey. The larger the turkey, the longer it will need to soak in the brine. I add all of the ingredients to the pot, except for the water, then add the turkey and add water to cover. It will be about a gallon, give or take some, depending on the size of your turkey. If you add more than a gallon of water (say for a larger turkey), you will want to add 1/4 to 1/2 cup more salt, otherwise the brine may not be strong enough.

1 gallon apple cider
1 cup coarse sea salt
2 onions, chopped (I leave the skin on)
2 oranges, sliced
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
1 small bunch fresh rosemary
1 small bunch fresh thyme
1 small bunch fresh sage
2 to 4 bay leaves
1 to 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
1 whole turkey (12 to 24 pounds)
1 gallon filtered water (or just enough to cover)

Place the apple cider, salt, onions, oranges, garlic, rosemary, sage, bay leaves, and black peppercorns into a large pot or container, stir well, and then place the turkey into it. Cover with filtered water. Place a weight on top of the bird to keep it submerged in the brine (like a glass bowl with a rock or a bag of water in it). If you don’t use a weight you will need to flip the turkey once or twice during a 24 hour period. Cover and refrigerate for 24 to 72 hours.

When ready to cook, preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Pull the turkey out of the brine and place into a roasting pan. Pull some of the onions, herbs, and orange slices out and stuff them into the cavity of the turkey. At this point I like to truss the bird with cotton butcher’s twine (you should be able to find this at your local kitchen or grocery store).

Next, remove the remaining solids from the brine and place them around the turkey in the bottom of the pan. This will flavor the bird even more during cooking and create an amazing gravy! Take about 4 cups of brine, along with about 2 cups of filtered water, and add it to the bottom of the pan.

Season the top of the bird with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Then drizzle the top with extra virgin olive oil.

Place in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes. Then reduce heat to 325 degrees F and continue roasting until juices run clear. I like to baste the turkey a few times during cooking as well. Brining can reduce total cooking time by a little, but you can use these guidelines from FoodSafety.gov for average cooking times (since I am not fully stuffing the cavity, I use the guidelines for an unstuffed turkey). Use a meat thermometer if needed to test for doneness. It should read about 165 degrees F when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, though I usually take it out of the oven when the temperature is a little lower to prevent overcooking.

8 to 12 pounds: 2 3/4 to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds: 3 to 3 3/4 hours
14 to 18 pounds: 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
18 to 20 pounds: 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
20 to 24 pounds: 4 1/2 to 5 hours

Once the turkey is done, let it rest in the pan for about 30 minutes before carving. This allows for the juices to go back into the meat. You can then remove the turkey and place it on a large cutting board to carve. Pour the pan juices through a fine-mesh strainer into a 2-quart saucepan. Follow these directions to make Gluten-Free Gravy with them!

Once you have pulled all of the meat from the bones, use the carcass to make a rich, nourishing Turkey Stock

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Cranberry Brown Butter

One of Dr. Zepp’s holiday favourites

4 pounds brussels sprouts, halved lengthwise
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 pound fresh or thawed frozen cranberries
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted organic grassfed butter
1 large shallot, minced
1 teaspoon chopped thyme

Preheat the oven to 400°. On 2 large rimmed baking sheets, toss the brussels sprouts with the oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 40 minutes, stirring halfway through, until the sprouts are tender and browned in spots.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine the cranberries, maple syrup, ginger and orange zest. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until the cranberries break down and thicken, about 10 minutes.
In a medium skillet, cook the butter over moderately high heat until deep golden, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the shallot and thyme and stir into the cranberry sauce. Transfer the butter to a bowl, add the brussels sprouts and toss. Season with salt and serve.

Festive Kale Salad

From Oh She Glows, Dr. Wolfe’s pick

SALAD

2 bunches of finely chopped green curly kale
Hefty sprinkle of pecan parmesan (see below)
1 cup pomegranate arils
Optional additions but highly recommended: goat feta, one apple peeled, cored and finely chopped
DRESSING (Sweet apple cinnamon vinaigrette)
6 tbsp apple cider vinegar
~4.5 tbsp lemon juice
4 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
PECAN PARMESAN
1 cup pecans toasted
3 tsp nutritional yeast
3-6 tsp olive oil (start with 3 and work up slowly)
1/2 tsp salt
Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C). Spread the pecans onto a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes until fragrant and lightly golden.
Remove the stems from the kale and discard. (Save the stems for a stir fry, broth or smoothie!)
Wash the kale and spin dry. Finely chop the leaves if needed otherwise place them in a large bowl with a glug of olive oil and a splash of lemon juice then massage the leaves until softened.
Make the dressing in a small bowl by mixing all of the ingredients together.
For the Pecan Parmesan: Add the pecans into the processor and process until the pecans are the size of peas or a bit larger. Now add in the nutritional yeast, oil, and salt and process again until it has a coarse crumb texture. Go slowly on this one so as not to overprocess into a fine powder.
Arrange your salad by adding all ingredients into the bowl, top with a hefty serving of the parmesan and serve the dressing on the side.

Super Seed Chocolate Bark

Dr. Sthamann’s delicous dessert

2-3/4 ozs dark chocolate
2 tsps cocnut oil
¼ cup pumkin seeds
¼ cup sunflower seeds
2 tbsps hemp seeds

Line plate or baking sheet with parchment paper.
Fill a medium pot with an inch of water and place a small pot or heat-safe bowl on top ensuring the water is not touching the bottom of the smaller pot or bowl. The smaller pot or bowl should rest tightly on top of the pot and any water or steam should not be able to escape. Bring water to a boil then reduce heat to low.
Add the chocolate and coconut oil to the double boiler and stir occasionally until the chocolate has melted completely.
Remove the bowl for the double boiler and stir in the seeds. Mix well until the seeds are completely covered in the chocolate.
Transfer the chocolate and seeds to the prepared parchment paper and spread into an even layer. Place the bark in the freezer for about 30 minutes or until solid.
When solid, break into pieces and store in an airtight container in the freezer or fridge until ready to eat.

Gut Health 101

You may or may not be aware, but good health starts in the gut!  It is a wee bit more complex than that, due to the intricate connection between the gut and the brain/ nervous system, but essentially if we do not have a healthy digestive system, it is really tough to have healthy hair, skin, nails, joints, immunity, energy, vitality, cardiovascular health, etc.

We have all heard “You are what you eat…”, which is true and I would add to that “… and absorb.”  In short, what we put into our bodies matters, as does what our bodies are able to do with these foods: how well we can pull nutrients from the foods through the small intestine and release waste products through the bowel.  So, what are the elements involved in the digestive process and what can we do to support ourselves?

Components of digestion:

  • Gut: mouth, throat, stomach, intestines: small and large (colon), rectum, anus
  • Accessory organs: liver, gallbladder, pancreas, appendix, omentum
  • Nervous system: brain, vagus nerve, enteric plexus, migrating motor complex
  • Microbiome: micro – tiny; biome – living… the tiny living creatures in our gut (bacteria, yeast/ fungi, viruses)

There is a growing volume of scientific evidence of the importance of the gut microbiome (the collection of micro-organisms and symbiotic bacteria that support our overall gut health), as the proper “critter balance” in our gut is essential for:

  • Nutrient absorption
  • Making enzymes, vitamins and amino acids
  • Producing short chain fatty acids (butyrate, propionate, acetate) that keep gut lining healthy and enhance gut immunity

The beneficial organisms are depleted by stress, diet high in processed foods/ refined carbs/ flour/ sugar/ low in fiber-rich plants, non-organic foods (pesticides, antibiotics), birth method (c-section), infant feeding, pharmaceuticals (namely antibiotics and antacids, but also others like meds for anxiety and depression), over-eating, lack of exercise, alcohol use and abuse (antiseptic).  This sets up a domino effect: low enzyme levels/ low acids  no killing of pathogenic bacteria/ yeast  pathogens set up residence  good guys killed off  putrefaction of foods vs/ healthy fermentation  toxins produced  “leakiness” of gut  irritation of gut lining  activation of immune system  overload of liver  creation of toxic bile  recirculation of toxins imbalance of hormones = constipation, diarrhea or other digestive disturbances (bloating, gas, abdominal pain, IBS, etc.)

Strategies for regaining healthy digestive function:

4 Rs: remove (get rid of the “bad guys”: problematic foods, bacteria, viruses, yeast, parasites, etc.), replace(put back in: enzymes), re-inoculate (get the good bacteria and beneficial yeast back in), repair (the gut lining using bone broth, amino acid powders, especially l-glutamine, fish oils)

  • Remove: Take natural anti-microbials if suspected “dysbiosis” (oil of oregano, garlic, pau d’arco, etc.)
  • Remove: Avoid flours (all flours, not just gluten) and sugar, reduce/ eliminate dairy and all other problem foods for you;
  • Remove: Ensure regular bowel movements – for constipation look at magnesium, hydration, probiotics/ for diarrhea look at psyllium, charcoal, bentonite;
  • Replace: Chew food well;
  • Replace: Take enzymes/ apple cider vinegar;
  • Replace: Activate vagus nerve: stress reduction/ gargle/ sing/ relax/ pray/ move/ meditate
  • Replace & Re-inoculate: Eat fermented foods
  • Re-inoculate: Take probiotics
  • Repair: Practice fasting (12 hours minimum)
  • Repair: Leave 4-5 hours between meals
  • Repair: Castor oil packs

Functional Foods for a Healthy Gut

Over the last few years there has been an increased interest in foods that do more than just provide basic nutrition. These foods are often referred to as functional foods; a term, first introduced in Japan in the 1980’s. Functional foods have sometimes been defined as “any food or food ingredient that may provide a health benefit beyond the traditional nutrients it contains.”

Many, although not all, functional foods are whole foods which provide a rich source of fiber to the diet. As well as providing other health benefits, these foods can in turn support good gut health.

 

A few of many examples of Functional Foods

  • Fiber-rich foods (psyllium, chia, ground flax) – 1-2 Tbsp 2xd;
  • Bitters” (artichoke, arugula, dandelion (tea), lemons, grapefruit) as these get things squirting;
  • O Shown to reduce cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular disease, oats are also a good source of manganese;
  • Rich in lycopene, betacarotene, and vitamin C, studies indicate that tomatoes may reduce the risk of prostate cancer.  They have also been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and to support bone health (note: some people may be sensitive to tomatoes if they need to avoid nightshades);
  • These may help reduce the risk of urinary tract infections while providing a rich source of antioxidants;
  • Studies show that a diet high in cruciferous vegetables is linked to a reduced risk for cancer;
  • Lacto-fermented foods. Those foods which have been made by allowing natural bacteria and yeast to feed on the sugars and starches in foods. This process creates enzymes, increases nutritional content, and adds beneficial probiotics to the foods.

Types of Fermented Foods

Found in many cultures around the world, fermented foods are a healthy way to support overall gut health.  Examples of different types of lacto-fermented foods include:

  • Traditionally fermented sauerkraut
  • A spicy fermented cabbage dish from Korea.
  • Soybeans that have been naturally fermented, found in a number of Asian cultures.
  • A fermented tea, origins unknown but it appears in many cultures.
  • Made from fermented milk, this is similar to yogurt but thinner and with more probiotic activity originating in the Caucasus mountains.

Adding these probiotic organisms to the digestive tract can improve digestive capacity. This is because they can improve the production of hydrochloric acid. Conversely when there is an excess of stomach acid, adding fermented foods can support and protect the intestinal lining.

Adding lacto-fermented foods also supports the release of digestive enzymes throughout the digestive system (stomach, pancreas, and gallbladder), these enzymes help to improve digestion, digestibility, and nutrient absorption from food.

Although lacto-ferments, are easy to make at home, they do require monitoring, temperature control, and an understanding of the fermentation process. Purchasing these, either at a grocery store or online, may be a simpler option, especially for those just getting starting with adding these types of foods to their diet.

Challenge: Add at least one new functional food to your daily diet

Resources:

https://www.backtoyouroots.com/ – locally made fermented foods available for purchase.

http://www.kristenscultures.com/ – locally made foods; also classes available to teach you how to ferment your own foods.

www.culturesforhealth.com – Great website that has for purchase items to get started on your own fermenting journey, as well as fantastic “how-to” guides, recipes and more (sourdough, yogurt, kombucha, kefir, vegetables, cheese and tempeh).

Believe You Can Heal

I have been in practice for almost 17 years, and life for over 46, and the longer I live and work the more strongly I believe in the importance of whole health healing, particularly digging deeper to the true causes of poor health.  So much so that this past summer I enrolled in the Whole Health Medicine Institute, a program for healers that was created by Lissa Rankin, MD over 6 years ago.  This program is based on the 6 steps to healing, as outlined in her first book, Mind Over Medicine: The Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself and on the concept of the Whole Health Cairn, a visual model to describe the key components of health, where each stone represents a component and that the stones are placed in a particular essential order onto the cairn, with the most foundational aspects forming the base of the cairn.

I invite you to take a look at the stones of the cairn and do a gentle and curious inventory of how firmly placed each stone of the cairn is in your life, and how you feel about the order of importance placed on each stone.  Many people are often surprised to see the foundational stones including things like: creativity, spirituality and sexuality, with the physical health stone resting on the top.  This isn’t to say the physical health stone, nor the mental health stone, also precariously near to the top of the cairn, are not of vital importance, they are! But what this model describes is that in order to have health in these areas, one must have the underlying stones in place.

How many of you have struggled with focussing mainly on your physical health? Pushing yourself to exercise more, eat cleaner, take more supplements, etc.? or concerned yourself of your mental health and taken supplements or pharmaceuticals to support you through anxiety, depression or insomnia?

And how many of you find these may have benefit but their benefits don’t last?  Or are hard to sustain?  Or maybe don’t work at all?

If this feels familiar, ask yourself if you have a relationship with the other stones of the cairn?  Do you have a relationship with your “inner pilot light”?  This is Dr. Rankin’s term for intuition/ inner wisdom/ our wise inner being/ the voice of our soul?  Or does hearing this question send you reeling into confusion?  Which can often be the case as we are not taught how to discern the voices of the programs that run in our heads from the wiser stiller voice deep within.  Are you doing work in your life that brings joy and meaning to you?  How healthy are your relationships?  Do you engage in creative play?  What is your spiritual orientation?  All of these have a significant impact on our physical and mental health as they dictate how settled we feel within our bodies and our environments.  This causes a corresponding shift in the flow of energy out of the fight or flight nervous system and into the rest-digest-heal-libido nervous system.  And from this latter nervous system activation, healing can actually take place.  From here the food choices we make, the supplements we take, how and when we move our physical bodies all have a greater impact.  We make choices that are aligned with our inner wisdom, making them that much more nourishing for us.

The six steps to healing as outlined in Mind Over Medicine and taught to us in WHMI for us to guide others through, form the basis of a system designed to guide and empower you to a state of optimal health in mind-body & soul.  I am not going to use the words guide you back to a state of optimal healthy in mind-body & soul as I don’t believe that many of us have experienced optimal health in this lifetime.  Often our lives are built on microtraumas, toxic belief systems, living for others vs. ourselves, hyper-responsibility, seriousness and essentially violent thoughts and actions towards ourselves as we fail to prioritize our self-care.  Though we may have felt better in the past, the reason we feel unwell now is because our unhealthy personal lifestyle choices or suppressed emotions or unhealed traumas are resulting in our bodies exhibiting symptoms, asking to be addressed.

I highly encourage you to purchase a copy of the 2nd updated edition of Mind Over Medicine, watch some of Lissa’s TedTalks, reflect on the stones of the Whole Health Cairn and review the 6 steps to healing yourself (click the link to read a pdf that provides you with a short description of each step).

  1. Believe you can heal.
  2. Connect with and surrender to your inner wisdom.
  3. Surround yourself with healing support.
  4. Diagnose the root cause of your illness (physical or mental health issue or symptom).
  5. Write the prescription for yourself.
  6. Treat your fears and resistance.

If you are interested in learning more or in being coached through this process, please email me or call me at the clinic (306) 757-HEAL[4325] and I would be honored to work with you!  This is powerful work and my own personal health journey through an eating disorder, body dysmorphia, anxiety, depression, low-grade bipolar disorder, adrenal burnout, “IBS”, exercise addiction and perfectionism has largely been as a result of my own experience with what forms the basis of Lissa’s work.  I had to come to this myself, through my own inner resourcefulness, journaling, meditation, counseling, therapy, energy work, nutritional and supplement support… so I was thrilled when I came upon Lissa’s work as it encapsulated it all so well into such a potent system.  And I am even more thrilled to have been taught and mentored by her over these last months as I have been in the program, gaining my certification which is one more piece of me living my own work/ life purpose!  Grateful to my own inner pilot light for guiding me along the path of my life and into yours!

The Medicine of Self

My personal health journey has seen me labelled with conditions such as “anxiety” and “depression” by incredibly well-meaning and knowledgeable health professionals.  At the times when I was offered these diagnoses, in my early 20s when my path of healing really began, I had the where-with-all… shall we say inner wisdom? To desire to reject these diagnoses.  Not to say that these symptoms I was experiencing were not real and often quite debilitating, which they very much were!  And as far as these professionals were concerned, I absolutely fit the criteria that they could access through their large volumes filled with psychiatric conditions.

Somehow, though, I couldn’t quite connect with their belief that because I was having these symptoms meant that I was “broken” and needed “fixing”, be it via proffered medications or the promise of cognitive behavioural therapy to “fix” (get rid of, banish) these troublesome thoughts that would cause my being to go into fight or flight or freeze.  The result of which, in my case, would be anxiety and panic or if that got to be too much, freeze: depression.  For me it was never quite the “satiation depression” that we often hear about, where both serotonin and dopamine are lacking and one can’t get themselves out of bed, can’t eat, loses interest in life, etc.  For me it was more of an “arousal depression” that resulted in low serotonin but reasonable dopamine so that no matter what I could push myself through and robot around through life, feeling flat… but still getting stuff done: therefore on the surface looking totally put together and ‘normal’ (incidentally, what even is normal??).

As a result of a very troublesome team of crazy people living in my head since the age of 12 (I am sure you can all relate.. you are all human after all and subject to the same types of conditioning that I have had: societal, cultural, familial, ancestral, etc.), it has been necessary for me to weed through these voices to find my inner truth.  Depending on which voice I listened to at any given point in time I could have found myself binge exercising, binge eating, seriously depriving myself of sufficient food, over-consuming water (yes, at one point my obsessive self and worked herself up to 12 liters a day, no joke!  I am so lucky my heart didn’t stop!), over-working, over-studying, etc.  Insert the generally societally-acceptable coping strategy-turned-addiction here and I likely had it.

I tried various routes to “fix” myself from these problematic behaviours, to “fix” myself from my thoughts, I tried harder and harder taking all the right supplements, doing all the right things, for many many years.  Some helped, some hindered, there didn’t always seem to be a rhyme or reason… until I learned about the medicine of compassion.  Specifically self-compassion, though step one is being held in the space by someone else who is fully in compassion for you, exactly as you are messy and unhinged, yet fully accepted.

Kristin Neff speaks at length on the subject, in fact she has a phD in it!  I use her work a lot, first in my own personal life and now that I absolutely witness the benefits, it has bubbled over into my practice.  Not only holding others in a place of compassion (which feels like a given! Though sadly it is not our reality in most cases in our experiences with medical professionals), but also teaching the principles of self-compassion and how to put it into practice.  And I have found that its cultivation truly leads to the turning point in our health.  The reasons for this are multi-fold:

  • First and foremost, it is that when we are held compassionately, with complete acceptance, by ourselves or another we feel safe. The feeling of safety, true deep safety, is a feeling that most of us don’t even realize we don’t feel most of the time.  We don’t realize we move through our lives with an underlying current of anxiety/ urgency/ kind of a “holding our breath” sort of energy.  Once we have the opportunity to “drop in”, we experience a literal and metaphorical “exhale”.  Muscles become softer, breathing deeper, emotions often rise to the surface.  This is the relaxation response (rest, digest, heal, reproduce/libido) that is only activated when we finally feel safe.  Because healing truly doesn’t happen when we are in the fight or flight nervous system… why would it?  We are just trying to survive!  Physiologically, the activation of the relaxation response promotes the inner biological mechanisms of repair: better digestion, improved wound healing, reduced pressure in blood vessels, lower inflammation, lower stress hormones, more feel good neurotransmitters.. I could go on and on because every single tissue of our body is benefited by the relaxation response… therefore.. self-compassion literally heals!
  • The second major advantage to growing self-compassion is that in this space we are more likely to make loving choices for ourselves. Health becomes a blessing we offer to ourselves. It no longer feels cumbersome to nourish ourselves with healthy foods, we no longer feel compelled to act violently towards ourselves by over-eating/ indulging in self-sabotaging behaviours, etc.  I know this takes time, but conceive of believing it is possible.

Maybe I am just lazy, and if that is the case then so be it!!  Or maybe it is just that I am choosy about where I spend my energy, as truth be told I am very dedicated to my health, mind body and spirit.  I love moving my body and working out, balancing it with yoga and relaxation practices.  I spend time every single morning in some sort of prayer/ meditation/ quiet time.  I eat well.  And yes: I LOVE coffee & wine and have no intention of giving them up (unless one day my soul asks me to!), though I also enjoy a healthy relationship with their consumption.  Nurturance vs. abuse/ addiction vs. white-knuckled abstinence.

I have done the two latter way too much in my life and it is exhausting.  The former, nurturance is my medicine now.  So I am definitely not lazy!  I just really don’t want to be over-restrictive with extremely limited diets (plus those could easily re-activate my past trauma history of sordid relationship with food.. no thanks!  I have come to far!), I really don’t like taking tons of supplements nor spending the money on them.  Not that they aren’t helpful and often necessary… but truly, they are the condiments, not the main course.  I am so inspired and interested in spontaneous healing and sacred medicine and how healing our minds and spirits can and does absolutely lead to physical healing.  This is my passion and this is truly what has worked for me and helped me work through anxiety, depression, bipolar symptoms (that diagnosis has also been offered, a story for another time), “irritable bowel syndrome” (that is one of my LEAST favorite labels!!), amenorrhea, body dysmorphia, disordered eating patterns, insomnia and I am sure others.  Our bodies are always giving us clues to listen up and pay attention, and if we treat them as warning lights pointing towards something else, rather than problems that need fixing in and of themselves then we will listen when they whisper and they are less likely to scream.

So YES! Absolutely diet and supplements are extremely important tools for sure!  And sometimes they are the solutions unto themselves, provided we are interacting with them in a life-giving way, rather than having them invoke yet another stress response from us.

If this speaks to you in anyway, I invite you to learn more:

Dr. Kristin Neff on The Science of Self-Compassion

Dr. Lissa Rankin MD, author of Mind over Medicine

And if you are interested in exploring your own inner landscape further, in a group setting, check out some of my upcoming offerings   Including “Journaling for Life” on September 29th, 2021.

Your Healthy Plate

I often hear people claim that “there is nothing left to eat!” when it is suggested to them that they remove refined foods, wheat/ breads, sugar, dairy, etc. from their diets and move to a more whole foods diet. Another common concern is that it takes too much time, effort and planning or is more expensive.

However, I want to assure you that it is possible to eat healthfully and conveniently!

If it weren’t, I would be in trouble!  As my life is rich and full and I do NOT love spending time in the kitchen, meal planning or grocery shopping!  The bulk of my planning goes to ensuring that we have enough healthy foods and ripe produce for the week.   And the bulk of the effort is in the wash and preparation of it, however honestly it can end there for difficulty.

Often my meals are fast and easy as life doesn’t allow me, due to the choices I make, to cook fancy meals from a recipe every day or even on a semi-regular basis.  So I have a “toss together” strategy when building my “healthy plate” for myself and for my family.

Breakfasts are often smoothies packed full of goodness. A handful of greens, some diluted oat or coconut milk, frozen berries, a half an avocado, a heaping spoon full of almond butter or hemp hearts for protein, a couple hearty scoops of ground flax seeds (the best medicine!), some sort of super food: cacao nibs, maca, or lucuma and a chunk of banana or drizzle of maple syrup for some added sweetness, are my favorite things to toss in my blender.

Or if I am looking for something warm some cooked kasha (toasted buckwheat) that I make in big batches, 1.5-2 cups dry at a time, 1:2 seed to water ratio, to make 3-4 cups cooked and store it in the fridge for a few days. My kids love it and we reheat from the batch, then drizzle on some flax oil, sprinkle on some cinnamon, sometimes stir in some natural peanut butter or peanut butter powder and a pinch of sea salt making a quick and easy, delicious and nutritious meal.

Usually once a week I have a carcass in the slow cooker for about 36-48 hours on a low simmer making broth. On a Sunday afternoon (or whenever I have an extra hour or two) I will drain the broth from the bones and make up a big pot of some sort of soup to be used for lunches for the week.

Suppers are a throw together sort of idea, depending on how much time I have.

For a starch (1/3 to 1/4 of your plate) I might lightly fry some plantain in coconut oil, or if I have more time roast some beets, sweet potato or squash in a roasting pan in coconut oil in the oven. Sprinkle with a combo of salt and pepper, some paprika, any dried herbs prior to roasting and they are so good.

Quinoa cooks up in about 15 minutes, rices a little longer so take that into consideration when choosing your starch.

Other non-starchy vegetables will make up about ½-2/3 of your plate.  I personally love a good “meal salad”.  I take 3-4 cups of mixed greens as my favorite, or chopped romaine is the preferred green of my kiddos.  We will often beef it up with added veggies like cucumber, tomatoes, or chopped pepper, sometimes not. I top mine with flax oil or a homemade salad dressing, and when I am making a meal out of mine I will toss in a few spoonfuls of hummus, sometimes some goat feta, often a scoop of basil pesto, definitely a few forkful of kimchi or sauerkraut, and whatever veggie burger I might be enjoying at the time.

I generally also try to steam up a veggie – broccoli or green beans. To make them a little more fun even a drizzle of a good quality oil (my fave is flax) and a pinch of sea salt does wonders.  Or saute some kale and brussel sprouts in some coconut oil.

Top your veggies and grains with healthy oils – hemp and flax oils, chopped avocado, a Tbsp or two of nuts or seeds.

I am currently exploring more vegan eating so my protein (1/4 of your plate) might be some hummus, falafel (little chickpea burgers), tofu, tempeh or a veggie burger.  Some of my favorite veggie burger brands include Dr. Praeger’s, Sol and the local company Back to Your Roots.

My son has liked tofu since he was little and I think his little constitution is much like mine and can thrive quite readily exclusively on plant-based proteins.

My husband and daughter on the other hand are definite omnivores, and I don’t know I would trust being around them too long without them having a good feast of chicken or beef.

I keep my deep freeze well stocked with meat from Pineview Farms, a wonderful family run operation just outside of Saskatoon, near Osler and Warman.  I also love Skipper Otto as my source for fish.  They are a community supported fishery out of BC and the quality of their catch and the integrity of their company is outstanding.

For quick protein recipe ideas for meat eaters, I have lots of yummy go-to recipes in the following cookbooks: Delicious Detox, Whole Life Nutrition, Nourishing Meals, Quinoa 365.

Do yourself a favor and pick 3 or 4 faves and use those in a pinch. When you make burgers or veggie burgers freeze extra so you can pull them out when short on time.

Have ground chicken on hand, it thaws fast and is easily cooked up for sauces or even just used as a crumble in a salad, stuffed into a wrap or stirred into some squash.

So, yes, I do cook different meals for myself and my family and it is a choice I make and I don’t mind it one bit. Sometimes I have people who are concerned that they have to make more than one meal for their family and this can seem quite daunting or “wrong” for some reason. I want to assure you that if this is something you need to do in order to be healthy, then do it! Don’t wait around for your family to want to do the same crazy things you are doing.

Just do it! for you! Maybe they will come around, maybe they won’t. Take care of yourself and lead by example.

In this photo I added fruit in its own circle, off to the side, as it doesn’t combine as well with meals (except for in smoothies!) but it is great for snacks. Choose pure water and herbal teas as your main beverage options.

 

I hope that you found some helpful ideas here to take the pressure off of yourself to make perfect meals every day.  The ‘toss together’ works for me and I hope you can find some inspiration this strategy too!

And remember, the more you follow a clean and balanced diet like this the more you will find your energy levels increase, your weight stabilize, your skin glow and your health issues gradually reverse.

You are worth the effort!