Three steps to get back on track in 2016

17229-a-woman-eating-a-fresh-salad-pvThe holidays are over. Now what?

Leave it in 2015

The most important step in moving forward is to leave the past in the past. Beating yourself up for decisions you made and actions you took in the past is a form of self harm. Learning from mistakes is one thing; dwelling on them is another. When we dwell on the past, we freeze our forward progress. We hold ourselves at the moment of transgression. Accept the fact that you went a bit off the rails over the holidays, forgive yourself for having made those decisions, and believe with all your heart — because it’s absolutely true — that you can come back from it.

Clean house

Relax, I’m not suggesting you scrub toilets. Though putting on a little music — whether it be Wu Tang Clan, Willie Nelson or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — and getting your scrub and sweep on is a great way to add a little movement to your post-holiday recovery plan! But no, I’m talking about food temptations. If you allowed yourself to indulge in Christmas cookies, special holiday foods and treats, anything that you feel you shouldn’t be eating on a daily basis and/or that triggers binge behavior, get rid of it. Get it out of the house. It’s okay that you ate those things; it really, truly is. It’s okay that you enjoyed every delicious morsel and moment of your holiday celebrations. In fact it’s more than okay; it’s great! But if you feel like you shouldn’t be eating that way anymore, get that stuff out of the house. Box it up to share with friends and family, put it in the break room at work, or just throw it away (I assure you, starving children in developing countries will not benefit one iota from your leftover yule log and kugel).

Welcome abundance

No one wants to start a health journey staring at empty refrigerator and pantry shelves. Once you’ve purged the house of non-health-supporting leftover holiday treats, it’s time to fill those shelves with an abundance of foods that will help you progress toward your goals, whether they be to lose weight, balance hormones, or just plain feel better. The only real rule to follow here is: the less processed, the better. This means choosing fresh food as much as possible — vegetables, fruits, leafy greens, unprocessed meats, nuts, eggs, whole grains instead of products made from flour, and full-fat no-sugar-added dairy. Don’t be fooled by packaged “diet” products — if you read the ingredient and nutrition labels, you’ll see that even products that claim to be light or high in protein are mostly stripped carbohydrates and fruit sugars. Just grab a handful of nuts and fresh berries, grapes or apple wedges — they’re portable and you’ll get plenty of fiber to go with those naturally occurring sugars!

These are only the first steps, but they form a solid foundation on which to build toward a lifetime of health in the new year. Stay tuned for more tips to get your health journey started out on the right foot in 2016!

Three steps to get back on track in 2016

Recipe Hack: Paleo Dongpo Pork (soy-free, nut-free, legume-free)

dongpo2My friend Kim is basically a superhero. A talented journalist and blogger, mum to four boys and spectacular cook, the food photos she posts on social media never fail to get my mouth watering. A couple of weeks ago she posted a photo that had me wiping drool off my phone screen: jewel-like cubes of pork belly slow-simmered in Asian seasonings until they were sticky and caramelized. She called it Dongpo Pork and posted the recipe on her blog not long after.

I had four pounds of pork belly in my freezer just waiting to be turned into such a delicacy, but there was one small problem: the original recipe is very soy-heavy, and my husband and kids all are allergic to soy. Other problems, on the night I decided I HAD TO MAKE THIS THING RIGHT NOW and didn’t want to take the time to run out to the store first: I had no idea what Shaoxing wine was, I had no peanut oil in the house, ditto Chinese tea of any kind, tritto yellow rock sugar (or any “normal” sugar for that matter).

But no matter! When pork belly needs to happen, PORK BELLY NEEDS TO HAPPEN, PEOPLE. Somehow, miraculously, I managed to make it work with a million substitutions. Below is my hacked version of Kim’s amazing original recipe. For what it’s worth, my version is soy-free, nut-free and completely paleo, though I did serve it over rice. And it was delicious! We literally fought over the leftovers, which never happens in my house. Awesome stuff!

Paleo Dongpo Pork

  • 4 lbs. pork belly
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 cup coconut aminos
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 cup mirin
  • 5 Tbs. coconut palm sugar (it’s what I had)
  • 2 cups brewed black tea (I used a chai spiced tea because again, it’s what I had)
  • 1 thumb-sized knob of fresh ginger, peeled, sliced and bruised
  • 8 green onions, cut into thirds or fourths

Place the pork in a large pot or dutch oven, cover with cold water, bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Remove pork and set aside until cool enough to handle.

Cut pork into 1.5-inch cubes (more or less). Wipe out the dutch oven, add the olive oil and brown the pork in batches over medium-high heat, setting aside afterward.

Carefully wipe out the dutch oven again. Add the coconut aminos, molasses, mirin, coconut sugar and tea and bring to a boil. Add the ginger and onions.

Add the pork and enough water to cover, if needed. Bring it back up to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for around 3 hours or until the pork is tender (make sure all the pork is covered with liquid during the cooking process or, as per Kim, it may dry out).

Remove the pork with a slotted spoon and set aside. Bring the sauce back to a gentle boil and reduce to a thick glaze (this took about 30 minutes for me).

Pour glaze over pork and serve with rice, cauliflower rice, vegetable noodles or just on its own!

Recipe Hack: Paleo Dongpo Pork (soy-free, nut-free, legume-free)

Permission to deviate from the norm this holiday season

9150-dining-table-with-dinner-to-be-served-pv

The holidays can be stressful for health-conscious individuals. Beginning with Halloween and continuing through Thanksgiving and the December holidays, each occasion has its food temptations. Many of these can be emotionally fraught as well; no amount of explaining that you’re trying to lose weight, avoid dairy or cut back on sugar is going to remove the sting of you refusing your mother-in-law’s famous pumpkin gingerbread cheesecake.

People tend to do one of two things when it comes to facing all this holiday temptation: become overly rigid and filled with anxiety at holiday gatherings where food is involved, or go completely off-plan and eat whatever comes in range for a couple of months regardless of how it makes them feel physically.

I’d like to suggest a middle path: giving yourself permission to deviate from the norm. What does that mean? Well, it depends on what your “norm” happens to be.

If your norm is to become rigid, refuse even a bite of your mother-in-law’s pumpkin cheesecake, joylessly turn your nose up at the plethora of holiday delicacies before you while virtuously nibbling on a carrot stick and giving yourself an ulcer over the constant refusal to try “just a bite”, my advice to you is: relax! If the food on offer won’t actually kill you or make you incredibly sick (i.e., in the absence of food allergies or extreme food sensitivities), is there any real harm in taking just a bite of your mother-in-law’s pride and joy pumpkin cheesecake or your niece’s famous sticky toffee pudding? Can you fill your plate with foods that fit more closely with how you eat on a daily basis (maybe make/bring these dishes yourself) and take little tastes of a few other dishes in which the cooks have a lot of emotional investment?

In a perfect world, everyone important to you would understand why you eat the way you do and respect that, or at the very least they’d have no emotional attachment to how you eat. But we don’t live in a perfect world. Most of us live in a world full of people who express love through food. I’m not suggesting you completely abandon your convictions, insert a noodle where your spine used to be and capitulate to every individual culinary whim in a gathering of two-dozen friends and family, I’m just suggesting you weigh the cost of taking that bite against the cost of not taking that bite and make the decision that works for you, not just in terms of your diet, but in terms of your relationships and your anxiety level. If giving yourself permission to loosen the reins just a tiny bit (again, while not compromising your overall health) helps you sail through holiday gatherings with less anxiety, by all means, do that. It’s okay.

If your norm is to go wild, throw your usual eating pattern out the window and indulge in mass quantities of sugar and trans fats for six or eight weeks until you’re completely kugel-wasted and physically miserable, I’d like to suggest a similar approach to the above: relax! It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. You don’t have to eat an entire plate of kugel. You can have just a bite or two and make your grandmother happy. If leftovers get sent home with you, you don’t have to eat them! You can give yourself permission to set aside a small taste to enjoy later and then throw the rest away.

That’s right: you can throw leftovers away. You don’t have to eat them. I know the idea of that makes many people uncomfortable, especially those of us who were raised with the spectre of starving children in developing countries. To our parents and grandparents, throwing away food was the basest of sin (not to be confused with the bassist of sin, which of course is Geezer Butler). But here’s the thing: if the item you’re throwing away is a nutrient-deficient amalgamation of stripped/milled grains, sugar, oxidized fats, chemicals, and other ingredients that do not support health in you or anyone else, does it really count as food?

When you cut coupons or helpful articles out of the newspaper (this is a thing we oldsters used to do before smart phones, just go with me here), do you feel any qualms about chucking the rest of the paper into the recycling bin? No. You got what you wanted out of it, and you don’t need the rest of it. The newspaper can’t feel pain or rejection. The same is true of all that edible stuff we collectively refer to as “food”. If you look forward all year to your grandmother’s kugel, your mother-in-law’s pumpkin gingerbread cheesecake or the peanut butter nougats your son discards from his Halloween candy stash, if the taste of those foods are integral to your holiday experience, if family bonds will be damaged by your refusal to eat them, if a taste or two won’t actually make you sick, then have a taste and throw the rest away. You got what you wanted from it, whether it be warm fuzzies on your part or the part of someone you love, and you don’t need the rest. Make a donation to a hunger relief agency for every container you toss, if that helps you part with it, but get rid of it. Keeping and eating it won’t do you or anyone else any good.

If you’re having trouble deciding which holiday dishes to fill up on and which to taste and toss, ask yourself: will my health be better served if I eat more of this? If not, taste it and toss the rest away.

Most of all, give yourself a break this holiday season. Look after your health. Eat more of what makes you feel good, and eat less of what makes you feel bad. Give yourself permission to break out of old patterns and settle into new ones that better support your health, both physically and emotionally. That will allow you to greet the new year with a renewed commitment to your own well-being rather than greeting it with an extra 20 pounds and a handful of damaged relationships.

Permission to deviate from the norm this holiday season

Should you take a cheat day?

14730-a-young-asian-woman-serving-herself-food-from-a-dining-table-pv

As a nutrition and wellness coach, when I say I don’t believe in cheat days I immediately paint myself as a hard-nosed, toe-the-line, no-deviation-from-the-script ascetic. But that’s actually the opposite of my philosophy. Let me explain.

In case you’re not familiar with the concept of cheat days, the idea is that when you’re following a restrictive diet, you get a day off every week or so to eat whatever you want as a sort of reward for sticking with the diet the rest of the time. The more restrictive the diet, the more hog-wild cheat days tend to be, often ending in gastrointestinal distress and feelings of guilt and regret. “I was doing so well, but I totally blew it on my cheat day! OMG, why did I eat that?!”

One of the reasons I don’t believe in cheat days is that I don’t believe in restrictive diets, either. I don’t believe in starvation or deprivation. That’s not how you heal the body.

The reason we need food to live is that we break down everything that enters our digestive systems into smaller bits that our bodies need to function. We use food to build and repair tissue, synthesize vitamins and hormones, remove toxins, keep our organs functioning — pretty much everything the body needs to do, it needs food in order to do it. Food isn’t just there to fill up our stomachs and keep us from feeling hunger. Food literally builds our bodies.

Different foods work for different people because we’re all so unique, inside and out. Your genetics, the composition of your gut microbiome, your external environment and whatever toxins and irritants exist there — all of these things affect how your individual body breaks down food and what it does with those smaller parts.

A large part of my coaching practice is helping people figure out what foods work for their individual bodies. What foods support health for you? What foods make you feel and look amazing? What foods give you glowing skin, boundless energy, sound sleep, balanced moods, untroubled digestion, painless movement throughout your day? Conversely, which foods make you feel awful? Which foods cause skin rashes and breakouts, digestive distress, insomnia, anxiety, depression, headaches, muscle aches, joint pain and fatigue?

It takes a while to figure all this out. But once you have figured it out, and provided you’ve done it by enjoying an abundance of clean protein, healthy fats and whole-food carbs in proportions that work for your body (not starving yourself, in other words), my hope for you is that you’ll choose to eat in a health-supporting way most of the time. Notice I didn’t say all the time. There may be situations in which you make an informed choice to eat a food that you know will make you feel bad because you’re willing to deal with the consequences of that. And that is a valid choice because you’re the boss of you and you get to make those decisions, guilt-free.*

(* Caveat: When you know a food makes you feel bad and you choose to consume it more than once a week or so, or if you feel compelled to set aside an entire day to binge on foods that you know make you feel lousy, there’s something going on there that needs to be addressed. The best-case scenario is that you’re not including enough calories and fat in your diet so that you feel deprived and deserving of a food “reward”. Worse-case, it’s about you feeling that, for some reason, you deserve to feel bad. Or at the very least, you don’t deserve to feel good. And it might be a good idea to examine why you feel that way.)

Barring an allergy or some other medical condition like diabetes or celiac, there are no good or bad foods. There are foods that make you feel good and foods that make you feel bad. There’s no such thing as “cheating” when you’re eating this way. There’s no stress over worrying whether a particular food is vegan or paleo or low-carb or detox-approved or otherwise on your “diet”. Everything you put into your mouth is a choice, or in some cases an experiment: how will this food make me feel? The answer to that question matters more than any diet dogma.

Love yourself. Forgive yourself. Nourish yourself. Don’t cheat yourself.

Should you take a cheat day?

Do you need a detox?

11705-a-beautiful-woman-holding-a-glass-of-juice-pvI’m sure you’ve seen them around: “cleanse” and “detox” programs promising to jump-start your health and weight-loss journey in anywhere from three to 30 days. Some involve juices, smoothies or shakes, some involve supplement pills, powders and specially packaged “foods”. Nearly all of them promise big results, fast. But do you need a cleanse or detox in order to kick off your journey to health and wellness?

In a word: no.

I am not at all a fan of cleanse and detox programs and don’t include them as part of my health coaching practice. Here’s why:

  1. They’re often deficient in calories, protein and/or fat — all things your body desperately needs to stay healthy and strong.
  2. They don’t actually do anything to reduce whatever toxic load you might be carrying (your liver and kidneys detoxify your body all day, every day).
  3. They’re expensive.
  4. They don’t produce lasting results.
  5. They’re often an excuse for people to eat junk when not on the program.
  6. They shock the body and actually can do more harm than good.

If you drink nothing but grapefruit juice, or lemon juice and cayenne pepper mixed with water, or kale and cucumber smoothies for an entire week, then yes, you’re going to lose some weight. You’re taking in about half the calories and way less than half the protein and fat your body needs to function, so obviously you’re going to shed some pounds (most of it water and sometimes muscle depending on the length of the program).

But what then? What do you do when the cleanse or detox is over? How do you eat moving forward? And how long do you think you’ll keep that weight off once the detox has ended?

Instead of embarking on a seven-day starvation regimen of flavored water and/or synthetic vitamins, what if instead you start TODAY eating just a bit less refined sugar, refined flour and factory-made food and eating just a bit more fresh vegetables, fresh fruits and clean protein? And then tomorrow, you cut back even more on the refined/processed stuff and load up a bit more on the fresh/clean stuff?

Do that every day and instead of sending your body into metabolic shock, causing it to break down muscle and throw your hormones out of whack, you’ll be building sustainable nutrition habits that lead to slow, steady hormone balance, tissue repair and weight loss. You’ll learn what foods work for your body, what foods don’t, what foods you truly enjoy and what foods you can give yourself permission to stop eating. Your relationship with food will change. No longer will it be a source of reward, punishment, guilt or shame; instead it will be what it’s meant to be — an extremely enjoyable way of keeping your body running in tip-top shape, feeling strong and energetic and free from pain and illness.

Those are results that last a lifetime, and that beats the heck out of losing and gaining the same 10 pounds (at $10 or more per pound, in the case of some cleanses) over and over AND OVER again!

Do you need a detox?

Raspberry lemonade echinacea gummies

rasplemongummies

Late spring allergies/cold got you down? With gut-healing gelatin, immunity-building echinacea and a hit of natural vitamin C, these bright little stevia-sweetened bites are good for what ails you!

3/4 cup (6 oz.) brewed echinacea tea (I like this one)
3.5 Tbs grass-fed gelatin powder (I like this one)
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh raspberries (if using frozen, be sure to thaw first)
20 – 30 drops liquid stevia

Gently re-heat tea to just below boiling if needed and whisk in gelatin until dissolved. Pulse lemon juice and raspberries in a blender or food processor until raspberries have liquified, then push through a mesh strainer (discarding seeds and pulp) into a small bowl. Add stevia to taste. Add gelatin mixture and whisk until blended. Pour into molds or a glass dish and chill for at least 1 hour or until set. Then unmold, cut into cubes and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Raspberry lemonade echinacea gummies