What are your cravings trying to tell you?

8224-chocolate-chip-cookies-on-a-plate-pvWe all crave certain foods from time to time. But what do these cravings mean and why do we have them?

Cravings are the body’s way of communicating a need. Figure out the need, and you can give yourself a variety of choices for how to fill that need, including choices that won’t derail you from your health goals! Here are some common food cravings, what they might mean, and how you can tackle them.

Craving: Chocolate

Why you’re craving it: Odd as it may sound, chocolate cravings often stem from mineral deficiencies, particularly magnesium, iron and zinc.

Try this instead: Make sure you’re getting enough minerals in your daily diet. Grass-fed beef, pastured lamb and sustainably caught shellfish are good animal sources of iron, magnesium and zinc. Plant sources include dark leafy greens, legumes, Brazil nuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.

If you’ve just gotta have it: When it comes to chocolate, the darker, the better. If your usual drug of choice is a sugary, waxy milk chocolate, it’s time to step up to the good stuff. Gradually wean yourself to the darkest chocolate you can stand (aim for 70% or greater cocoa content). Chocolate that dark not only will feed your chocolate craving, it’ll also help supply the minerals your body is missing without spiking your blood sugar.

My favorites: Green & Black’s Organic 85% Dark Cacao Bar (available pretty much everywhere, including Walmart), Alter Eco Dark Blackout Organic Chocolate bar (also 85% cocoa content, available at health food stores).

Craving: Cake and cookies

Why you’re craving it: A craving for sweet carbohydrates in baked form usually stems from stress. This can be emotional stress from a difficult work, school, relationship or financial situation, or it can be physical stress from illness (or certain medications used to treat it), lack of sleep, injury or overexertion. No matter how you slice it, if you’re craving cake and cookies, you’re hurting on some level and you need comfort.

Try this instead: The first line of defense for comfort food cravings is to try to fill the need for comfort without food. If you come home from work and immediately end up face-down in a box of Ring Dings, it might be time to switch up your routine. Change into some comfortable clothes, put on some soothing body lotion, cuddle up with a blanket (and/or a pet), put on some relaxing music, light a scented candle or diffuse some essential oil, try a little self-massage. Do some yoga stretches (check videos on YouTube) or meditate for as long as you can stand it (one minute is okay — one breath is okay!). Find a long-term stress relief and self care routine that works for you and watch those comfort food cravings melt away!

If you’ve just gotta have it: Sweet fruits and warming spices are the way to go if your body is screaming for baked goods. Try sauteing apple or banana slices in a skillet with some grass-fed butter or coconut oil, then sprinkling with cinnamon, nutmeg and/or powdered ginger. Unsweetened applesauce with cinnamon, warmed on the stove or in the microwave, is another good choice. And if you really really need a cookie, these power cookies from Abel James are packed full of superfood ingredients.

My favorites: I like to mash a banana with some nut butter, then add cinnamon and other warming spices and heat the whole shebang in the microwave or on the stovetop. It sounds weird, but it’s so comforting and delicious!

Craving: Salty, crunchy snacks

Why you’re craving it: Barring a sodium deficiency in your diet, which is rare, a craving for salty, crunchy snacks usually stems from plain old boredom. People who crave chips, pretzel sticks and crackers on a regular basis tend to need a lot of sensory stimulation and novelty, or they tend to have a lot of nervous energy and need to do something with their hands.

Try this instead: Just like with a comfort-food craving for baked goods, a salty/crunchy craving that stems from boredom often can be met by addressing the boredom directly. So try something new that engages your mind, keeps your hands busy, and gives you a different sensory experience. Knitting, crochet and other forms of needlework, crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, sudoku, adult coloring books, solitaire (with actual cards, not on your phone), getting up and moving around when you usually sit, or even sitting in a different chair or spot on the couch all can twitch your brain out of that boredom groove.

If you’ve just gotta have it: Kale chips and other veggie chips are a health-supporting alternative to potato, tortilla and pita chips provided they’re fried or baked in a non-inflammatory oil (like coconut, avocado or olive oil). Roasted nuts are another great choice — make your own by tossing two cups of raw mixed nuts with a couple of tablespoons of healthy oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, then roasting on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 350 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes.

My favorites: This may sound weird coming from a health coach, but I’m a big fan of pork rinds provided the only ingredients are pork and salt – Baken-Ets Traditional is a pretty widely available brand. I also love Seasnax, which are a good source of iodine for those of us not using iodized table salt. And Inka Chips Original plantain chips have taken the place of tortilla chips in my house — they’re great for scooping up homemade guacamole and salsa.

Craving: Beer and bread

Why you’re craving it: Odds are if you’re craving yeasty foods and drinks, you’ve got a little tummy upset going on and your beneficial gut bacteria are trying to boost their numbers through fermentation.

Try this instead: Fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut, kimchi and other traditional fermented pickles should settle your tummy without adding too many inches to your waistline. If you tolerate dairy, try a fermented full-fat dairy product like yogurt or kefir.

If you’ve just gotta have it: Fermented vegetables and diary not doing the trick? Try a traditional fermented cider or ginger beer, kombucha, or a drinking vinegar or shrub. If the bread bug has got you down and you’ll absolutely die without a little bite, opt for a sprouted whole-grain fermented sourdough bread. Just watch your portions if you have a blood sugar imbalance or weight-loss goal.

My favorites: Buddha’s Brew Hop’d kombucha and Live Soda kombucha in Sparkling Ginger are in my refrigerator at all times to soothe any tummy issues that come along. I’m also a huge fan of Farmhouse Culture‘s raw fermented sauerkraut and kimchi.

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What are your cravings trying to tell you?

Love begins with you

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“If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?” – RuPaul

People who feel unlovable will do everything they can to prove that it’s true. Have you ever noticed that? Have you been pushed away in a relationship? Or maybe you’ve been the one doing the pushing, afraid that if the other person only knew what you’ve done, thought, said, believed, etc. — they’d realize you didn’t deserve their love?

Well, I have a couple of truths to lay on you:

  1. Everyone deserves love.
  2. You can’t control how someone else feels about you.
  3. You absolutely can control how you feel about yourself.

Self-love begins with forgiving yourself for past decisions and actions, and that forgiveness begins with the knowledge that you can’t go back and change what happened in the past. What does holding onto it and beating yourself up about it get you? All it gives you is an excuse not to move forward with your life. By holding yourself at the point of transgression and marinating in your own perceived failure, you rob yourself of forward progress toward your goals and of the chance to make new decisions. Maybe you’re afraid those decisions will be “wrong” as well, and that you’ll only make things worse? Ask yourself: how can things be any worse? How can it be worse to try something that might make things better vs. forever encasing yourself in psychological amber at a fixed point in your past that can’t be changed?

You have to forgive yourself. You have to realize that you made the best decision you could with what you had to work with at the time. You have to acknowledge that you can’t move backward and try to fix it — the only way past it is to move forward, to keep making decisions, to keep trying to be better. Every moment is a new chance to change your life. All you have to do is decide you’re ready.

Once you’ve forgiven yourself, you can begin to appreciate how hard you’ve already worked. How much you’ve survived. How incredible you are to have kept going. There’s a spark in you that didn’t quit — as evidenced by the fact that you’re still here — and you can fan that spark into a flame. You’ve survived all that, you’ve earned your place in this world, and there is nothing you can’t do. You keep trying, you want to be better, and you deserve goodness and love.

Loving yourself means being whole within yourself. It means knowing you are a complete and magnificent being. Just because you’re trying to be better and because you want more for yourself, that doesn’t mean anything is missing. It only means you’re becoming fuller and richer. Your light is shining brighter. That little spark has become a warming, nurturing flame. Many spiritual traditions would say that you’re becoming closer to God, clearing out space to become a more open vessel for the light of the Divine.

However you look at it from a spiritual standpoint, self-love and being whole within yourself is a gift not only to yourself, but to the world. When you are complete within yourself, you don’t need another person to complete you. Any relationship you enter into is a choice. Sure, attraction and love go beyond conscious choice, but sharing your life with another person absolutely is a choice. If things aren’t going well, if that relationship makes you feel smaller and dims your light, you have the choice to stay and work on it or to leave. Because you know that in your vastness and in your wholeness, you will survive with or without that relationship. You know you deserve a love that nurtures your growth and that honors all you are and all the incredible work you’ve done.

(And not for nothing, but when you love yourself, you’ll want to treat yourself better, feed yourself better food, move your amazing body in ways that make you feel strong and powerful and brimming with health!)

Just a little something to think about on this St. Valentine’s Day!

Love begins with you

A new approach to old habits

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Much of what I do as a nutrition and wellness coach is help people replace old habits that no longer serve them with new habits that are more in line with their current goals. Habits are funny things. We attach so much emotion to them. Sometimes we hate them, are ashamed of or embarrassed by them, and we just want them gone. Other times we find them oddly comforting even when we know they aren’t good for us. Often we feel trapped by them; they’re so deeply ingrained that we feel powerless to break free.

What if we took a less antagonistic approach and attitude toward the habits that no longer serve us? What if we showed them appreciation, thanked them for all the ways they did serve us once, even if in the long term the effects were not overwhelmingly positive and we now feel ready to move in a different direction?

Think about a habit you’d like to change. Odds are it had its genesis in a time of high emotion for you. Maybe that coffee milkshake and double scone on the way to work was the only thing getting you out of bed in the morning to spend your day at a job you hated. Maybe that nightly bag of chips in front of the TV was your way of coping with the stress of a sick parent or child. Maybe that pint of ice cream was a comfort after a brutal breakup that broke your heart. Maybe that bag of candy made you feel less lonely. Maybe that Sunday morning box of donuts made you feel closer to your donut-loving mom. Maybe that weekend booze binge let you feel like you were making one decision for yourself at a time when you felt all of your decisions were being made for you. Maybe that cigarette gave you a feeling of control, calm and ritual at a time when your life felt completely out of control. Maybe that lunchtime soda was a reward for getting through your morning and a bolster to help you get through the afternoon.

At one time, that habit served you. It gave you something you needed. It helped you cope somehow. It helped you survive something intense. And you liked that feeling of calm, control, comfort, reward, or whatever it was, so you kept doing it. Because guess what? You’re human, and that’s how we’re wired. We take an emergency, short-term measure and we turn it into a daily routine because we don’t want to lose the feeling that it gives us. We keep seeking that hit.

Realizing that our habits no longer serve us, that we’re no longer getting that reward from them, or that we’d like to get it in a more health-supporting way is absolutely the first step to changing those habits. But the second step is to reflect on those habits without judgement or shame and to feel gratitude for how they helped us cope. Those habits did us a service, they helped us survive, and they allowed us to get to the point where we are now — ready for change.

Affirmation: “Thank you for your service, old habit, but it’s time for me to put you back in the toolbox and move on to the next phase of my life!”

More about how to do that in future posts and future issues of my newsletter!

A new approach to old habits

Three steps to break through limiting beliefs

9455-a-beautiful-girl-jumping-on-a-beach-pvHow many times a day does the phrase “I can’t … because” cross your mind or your lips? “I can’t stick to a diet because I just don’t have any willpower.” “I can’t run because of my knees.” “I can’t exercise because of my crazy schedule.” “I can’t do anything about my crappy job because I need the money.” Do any of these sound familiar?

Sometimes they come in another form: “I’m terrible at math.” “I hate exercise.” “I’m the worst cook in the world.” “I suck at maintaining friendships.” “I’m trapped in this unfulfilling relationship.” “I’m too old.” “It’s too late to change anything.”

All of these are limiting beliefs, and they are the biggest obstacle to success in any endeavor. If you truly believe you can’t do something, full stop, then you’ll be right about that every single time.

But here’s the thing: these beliefs can be changed! You truly can free yourself from these thoughts, because that’s all they are — just thoughts. They’re only true if you believe they’re true. Are you ready to stop believing all these negative, limiting, not-objectively-true-at-all things about yourself? These tips will help get you started!

1. List your choices

“I can’t stick to a diet…” Okay, well can you drink water instead of soda for a week? Can you eat a salad instead of a burger for lunch every day for a week? What about just drinking water instead of soda or having a salad instead of a burger today? Maybe you can give up your sugary coffee drink. Or replace your afternoon candy bar with some fresh fruit. What can you change about the way you’re eating now?

“I can’t run…” Can you try walking? Riding a bike? Standing to do a task that you’d normally do sitting? Doing some yoga? Sitting in a chair and punching an imaginary punching bag? How can you get moving more than you are now?

“I can’t exercise…” Can you park a little farther from the door at work? Take the stairs? Walk to lunch instead of driving? Go to the restroom that’s a little farther down the hall? Do some squats while on the phone or watching TV? Do some bicep curls with water bottles while waiting for the microwave to finish? How can you work in more movement while doing the things you already do?

“I can’t do anything about my job…” Can you talk to someone at work about any issues you might be having? Can you ask for more training, more pay, a different work location? Can you make sure your resume is up to date? Can you keep an eye on job listings? Can you get your interview suit dry-cleaned and ready to go? How can you make yourself more valuable to current and prospective employers?

You have choices. You absolutely do. There are things you can do to work toward where you want to be. List them out, even if they don’t seem possible right now. No one but you has to see this list.

2. Set yourself up for success

If cookies trigger binge-eating behavior for you, don’t have any cookies in the house! Don’t set a trap for yourself in which you reinforce your limiting belief. If you know cookies are your biggest temptation, and you buy them anyway, and you inevitably eat one (or five or thirty), what’s going to happen? You’ll beat yourself up, you’ll reinforce your limiting belief that you have no willpower or are addicted to cookies or whatever negative thing you believe about yourself, when all along it was a clear case of entrapment.

Don’t set traps for yourself. That’s a form of self-harming, pure and simple. Remove temptations from your environment and replace them with health-supporting options. Out with the cookies, in with the fresh fruit! This is not a test of willpower, it’s an act of self-love. It’s giving yourself the tools you need to succeed.

3. Work toward short-term goals

Instead of vowing to lose 50 pounds in a year, why not aim for losing one or two pounds in a week? Instead of giving up donuts forever, why not give them up just for today? Instead of jumping right in to walking five miles a day, why not walk half a mile today and then make a point of walking just one driveway/doorway further tomorrow? Take one week, one day, one choice at a time. Every single moment is a chance to make a choice. This one particular sugary latte you’re about to order — you can choose to have water and a banana instead.  Just for this one. This one particular bowl of pasta you’re about to eat — you can choose to have a salad instead. Just for this one.

Working to short-term goals lets you experience immediate success. You set a goal, and hey, you achieved it! Maybe you don’t suck at this. Maybe you can do it.

And believing, even a tiny bit, that you can do it is the beginning of the end of those limiting beliefs.

Three steps to break through limiting beliefs

Permission to deviate from the norm this holiday season

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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?

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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?

The importance of ritual

16316-a-young-woman-stretching-before-exercise-pvHuman beings are creatures of habit. No matter how spontaneous and full of surprises some of us may like our lives to be, we all have touchstones that ground us, bring us back to ourselves and give us a sense of belonging. Beginning and ending the day with routines and rituals can be a great way to manage anxiety, disconnect from the hamster wheel in your brain and remind yourself that you are part of something immense, beautiful and important.

Here are some ideas for morning and evening rituals. You can chose one or all or come up with your own ideas to bookend your day with a sense of purpose, peace and gratitude.

MORNING

Focus on the physical. Instead of jolting awake with a sense of urgency over your impending to-do list, take a moment first thing upon waking to focus instead on physical sensations. The weight of your body on the mattress, the feel of the sheets/blanket against your skin, the gentle rise and fall of your breath, the light coming in the window, birdsong or traffic from outside — focusing on these sensations instead of the story in your head about all you have to do for the next 16 hours can bring a sense of calm. You may notice things about your environment that you never noticed before.

Feed your soul. Whether the Bible, the Tao Te Ching or simply a favorite poem, inspirational words followed by prayer, meditation or contemplation can create a sacred space in which to begin your day and remind you that you are loved, you are worthy, and you are part of all the tremendous beauty in the world.

Move gently. Sun salutations, gentle stretches, a stroll around the yard while the dog performs his/her own morning ritual — all of these things can help to gently wake the body and get it ready to perform. Whether you’re facing an hour-long commute or you intend to knock out a five-mile jog before the kids wake up, beginning with gentle movements will help prepare your body for what’s to come.

Warm your belly. Before reaching for that cup of coffee or tea, try priming your body for digestion with a cup of warm water and lemon, ginger, mint or other herbs. In addition to refreshing the mouth and warming the belly, this will gently awaken your tastebuds, get saliva production started and alert your digestive enzymes that nourishment is at hand.

Cleanse mindfully. Many cultures and spiritual practices use cleansing rituals to prepare for important ceremonies. You can do a mini version of this every day. Brush your hair and give yourself a gentle scalp massage with the pads of your fingertips before shampooing, use a dry-brush technique on your body before showering, rub a bit of coconut oil into your skin after bathing to soften and seal in moisture. So often we feel disconnected from our bodies because we believe they’ve let us down, or we’ve let them down. Mindfully and gently cleansing yourself can help you reconnect with your amazing vessel and learn to treat it with kindness, appreciation and gratitude.

Let the music play. As you transition from gentle waking to the more active part of your day, music can be a terrific mood-setting and productivity tool. Fire up your own motivational playlist or use one from a streaming service such as Songza, Spotify, Pandora or Amazon Prime Music. Sing, dance and get your body moving and your mind ready to Do. This. Thing.

EVENING

Block it out. While turning off electronics completely at least an hour or two before retiring is a great idea, it can lead to anxiety and feelings of isolation for many people. At the very least, take measures to keep blue light from computer, tablet and phone screens from interfering with your body’s attempts to move into sleep mode by installing an app that blocks blue light. An app called f.lux is a great option for Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone and iPad. Android tablets and phones can use Twilight. These apps are highly customizable and use your geographical location to begin dimming and warming the light from your screen as the sun sets.

Write it down. All those things you’re keeping in your head, all those tasks that went unfinished today and will have to be completed tomorrow, all that correspondence that needs to be tackled at the start of your workday — Write. It. Down. Put it on paper and get it out of your head. If those thoughts drift back in while you’re winding down for the day, remind yourself that it’s all written out for you to deal with tomorrow. It will keep until then. If thoughts of the day ahead wake you during the night, keep a small notebook and pen near your bedside and write these thoughts down as they come. Once they’re on paper, let them pass from your mind. If you can’t let go of the nagging thought that you’ve forgotten something, write THAT down: “I think I’ve forgotten something.” The very act of getting that down on paper will either jog your memory or give you a sense of having acknowledged it so that you can clear your mind for relaxation and sleep.

Reverse it. A simple way to ritually close out your day is to do your morning routine/ritual in reverse. Soothing music, a gentle soak in epsom salts and lavender oil to relax your body (or other mindful bodycare rituals such as a gentle oil cleanse to remove makeup, a foot and leg massage with coconut oil, etc.), a cup of relaxing herbal tea (at least two hours before bedtime if your bladder wakes you during the night), extremely gentle stretches or yoga poses (savasana, anyone?) to relax your muscles, devotional readings, meditations and/or prayers of gratitude, and finally relaxing into the physical sensations of the nighttime world and your cozy bed — your weight on the mattress and pillow, the sheets against your skin, the warmth of your breath through your nostrils, the lullaby of owls and crickets or the murmur of tires on asphalt.

Give yourself over to whatever morning and evening rituals work for you. You may find that you sleep better at night and are more productive during the day knowing that you have these comforting touchstones to return to at every sunrise and sunset!

The importance of ritual