Optimize Your Sleep

Sleep is the cheapest strategies in our health arsenal and quite possibly the most important. It plays a vital role in our physical and mental well-being. Getting an extra 30 minutes of sleep gives your body more time to heal, repair, and detoxify from the day and can revitalize your brain, allowing your brain to form new pathways and perform better the following day. Ongoing sleep deficiency has been linked to increased risk of heart and kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and obesity. To help you get to sleep earlier, try cutting your screen time short and unwind with light stretching or yoga, a warm bath (try adding Epsom salts!), meditation, or a good book. If there is just no way that you can get 7 – 8 hours of sleep in a night, aim to take a 10-20 minute nap during the day. Studies show that a short nap can provide similar benefits to a longer one. You also don’t want to disrupt your night time sleep by sleeping too much during the day so keep it to 20 minutes if possible.

An inability to fall asleep or stay asleep can mean that something in your body is out of balance or your diet or lifestyle needs some tweaking. Here are my top ten tips for improving your sleep hygiene.  If these strategies don’t help, it may be time to seek out help from a practitioner.

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  1. Keep a routine.  Help your body find its natural sleep rhythm by going to bed at the same time every night (or most nights), ideally by 10pm (especially in the darker seasons) and waking up at the same time every morning. Aim for eight hours a night. Individual needs vary some and you can decide how much sleep makes you feel your best, but eight hours is a good rule of thumb.  Avoid staying up too late because you can end up spiking your cortisol to give your body energy which will affect your sleep when you finally get into bed. 

  2. Don’t eat right before bed. Eat your last meal at least two to three hours before bed to allow your body to digest your last meal before you hit the sack.  This will also allow your body to focus on the many other processes your liver, brain and other organs go through to reset and refresh your body overnight.

  3. Leave technology out of your bedroom.  EMFs (electromagnetic fields) are all around us, night and day and we do not yet know the long-term effects of their exposure. Reducing your exposure overnight not only can improve the quality of your sleep but can give your body a break from the constant exposure.  Try putting your Wi-Fi on a timer in order to turn it off a night. You can also put your cell phone in airplane mode, turning it off or keeping it out of your room entirely. Use a battery operated analog or LCD alarm clock instead. Keep other EMF emitting things like laptops, televisions, DVD players etc., out of your bedroom altogether.

  4. Keep your room as dark and as cool as possible. Our bodies like cooler temperatures for sleep. You can go down to 54 degrees in the winter months and 74 degrees on the high end in the summer months.  Outside of this range is not optimal for your body. Additionally, aim to keep your room as dark as possible, even small amounts of light can disrupt your sleep.

  5. Reduce caffeine. If you are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep and are a big coffee or caffeinated beverage drinker, consider reducing or eliminating caffeine to see if that helps.  The link between caffeine and sleep is two-fold. For one, in some people caffeine can raise cortisol levels and keep them elevated throughout the day which will affect sleep in the evening.  Additionally, people who are slow metabolizers of caffeine (possibly up to ~half of the population) can still have caffeine in their system by bedtime which may cause problems falling or staying asleep.

  6.  Drink less alcohol.  Sorry folks. While it may appear that alcohol helps you to get to sleep, it actually negatively affects your sleep quality.  It lessens the amount of time you are in the REM (deepest) cycle.  This can cause you to wake up more frequently and you may feel more tired in the morning.

  7. Move your body every day. Exercise is known to lift mood and reduces stress. It can strengthen our circadian rhythms which will promote daytime alertness and help bring on sleepiness at night. Research has also shown that exercise can help to improve not only the quantity of sleep but also the quality. Physical activity may stimulate longer periods of the deepest and most restorative stages of sleep. Try working out a different times of day to see what works best for your circadian rhythm. For many, physical activity first thing or sometime before the early evening can be the sweet spot for optimal sleep.

  8.  Avoid evening blue light.  In the evenings, blue light exposure from screens or the TV can wreak havoc on your ability to sleep. Try to avoid screen time within 1-2 hours of bed time if possible and if you can’t give that time up, consider purchasing some blue light blocking glasses. While light of any kind can suppress the secretion of melatonin, blue light at night is the worst culprit.. Harvard researchers and their colleagues conducted an experiment comparing the effects of 6.5 hours of exposure to blue light to exposure to green light of comparable brightness. The blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much (3 hours vs. 1.5 hours).

 

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Intermittent Fasting In a Nutshell

Humans throughout history have feasted and then fasted in regular intervals, sometimes by choice (the ancient Greeks were known to fast) and sometimes by necessity.  Some cultures and religious groups still practice periods of fasting today. Our bodies were built to respond and adapt to this type of nourishment (and lack thereof) for periods of time. For a number of reasons, fasting practices became less popular over time, until pretty recently.

For most of civilization, we lived without grocery stores, restaurants, convenience stores and meal or grocery delivery services. Now that we have these novelties, we can (and do!) eat during every waking minute because it is convenient. Conventional wisdom (and diet culture) has also taught us that eating smaller meals throughout the day can kick your metabolism into high gear and allow you to lose weight more effectively since you are constantly “stoking the fire”. When you look at how our bodies work in response to what we put into it, research shows that the opposite is actually true. We are better off giving our digestion a break sometimes.

The more often we eat, the more often the pancreas needs to release insulin to regulate blood sugar.  With more ups and downs, this blood sugar roller coaster can lead to irritability and mood swings, increased cravings, and even more fat storage. The body no longer needs to use fat stores to fuel the body between meals, but instead uses whatever is coming in, usually in the form of glucose. Whatever is not going to be utilized right away is stored as fat. Additionally, each time food enters our body, the process of digestion is kicked off all over again and energy is allocated to breaking down that food which takes away from other tasks that are required by the body for other purposes.

Ideally, we should have a fairly steady blood sugar ride throughout the day with balanced meals of fat, protein and carbs to satiate us until our next meal. We should not constantly rely on food for a quick hit of energy. This is not to say that eating regularly or snacking is bad, but giving your body a minimum of 3-4 hours between eating can provide the digestion cascade with the rest it needs and be very beneficial to the body.

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So, what is it?

Intermittent fasting is a practice in which you choose to forgo food for a pre-determined period of time between meals, typically between your last meal of the day and whenever you decide to eat again (usually the following day). This process enables your body to enter a prolonged fasted state whereby it utilizes or burns fat stored on the body for fuel. You experience a longer period of low insulin in the blood as opposed to the constant switching of low to high and back when you your body is constantly taking in food.

Over time, this type of fasting may encourage your hormones to reset and return markers such as blood glucose, blood pressure and liver function to normal levels. It may also allow you to better recognize hunger cues and bring about a better relationship with food. Some research has shown that intermittent fasting can help to prevent modern health problems like diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, fatty liver, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), and even dementia and Alzheimer’s.    

Women and Intermittent Fasting

All of the benefits sound great, but almost all of the research done on this topic is with men (are you surprised?), rats, or the women participants did not experience the same positive results as the men did. In fact, as of now, there are no intermittent fasting studies using only women. Furthermore, the studies that have been done on humans haven’t gone beyond researching body weight or cardiovascular benefits. Women are very different, we have completely different hormones and nutritional needs then men. Anecdotally, some women who practice intermittent fasting report low energy, sleeplessness, anxiety and stress, irregular periods, hormone imbalance and brain fog. This raises a red flag for me.

It makes a lot of sense why women in particular might feel this way. Fasting, which is a stressor to the body in itself, signals your brain (and your body) that it is in famine mode. For women, this may prompt the body to halt ovulation until the stress on the body dissipates and the nourishment entering the body is at a sufficient level to support reproduction and sustain another life. This may be true for men also, but biologically women are much more sensitive to these effects.    

Is it right for me?

I am not saying that women should never practice intermittent fasting. What I am saying is that we are all bio-individual, what works for one person may or may not work for someone else. This goes for both men and women. We all need to read the signs our own bodies gives us to determine what diet and lifestyle practices will make us feel the best. It is definitely more challenging for women to intermittent fast, but it could be a tool worth trying try in order to heal your relationship with food, balance your hunger hormones, or use it for therapeutic reasons. If you are trying to have a baby, planning on trying, pregnant, are a nursing mom or have a history of disordered eating, intermittent fasting is not appropriate. If you struggle with blood sugar issues, I recommend working with a practitioner work through the issues and get your body to burn fat for fuel, before starting a fasting practice. Fasting will only cause you more harm than good if your body is unable to tap into its own fat stores. Many different types of intermittent fasting practices exist, some with benefits backed by research and others not, but there are only a couple of ways that I believe are appropriate for women (and of course men too!) given our general make up and evidence of its validity. 


 1. Overnight fasting: This one is the easiest to implement and the one I recommend most. It involves fasting for 12 to 16 hours at a time 4-7 days per week. For example, you stop eating at 7:00 PM and fast until sometime between 7:00 AM and 11:00 AM the next morning. This practice can actually be as simple as not eating anything after dinner, and skipping breakfast. For people wake up hungry and like to eat breakfast, this can be a challenging transition.

To help extend your fast later into the morning, drinking coffee or tea with some added fat (Bulletproof style), but no sweetener will help your blood sugar stable and your hunger pangs at bay until you are ready to eat a meal. You may end up eating only two meals a day with this type of fast and it is important to eat nutrient dense, healthy foods during your eating window to ensure you are getting enough of the proper nutrients your body needs.

The time you break your fast is flexible and depends on when you feel hungry.  You may want to start with 12 hour fast and over time, lengthen your fasting window. This type of intermittent fasting still allows you to give your digestion a rest, potentially burn fat, and restore your hormone balance, but it won’t restrict calories long enough to cause your body additional problems. Always be sure to drink plenty of water (you can even add a pinch or two of salt to your water – my favorite is Real Salt) while you are fasting. I find that this type of fasting (when I practice it) works the best for me and I find it to be the most natural for my body and lifestyle. 

2. Spontaneous Meal Skipping: You can still reap the benefits of intermittent fasting without actually doing anything structured. This practice involves simply skipping a meal from time to time, when you don't feel hungry, travelling across time zones or are too busy to cook and eat. It is a myth that people need to eat every few hours or they will hit starvation mode or lose muscle mass. As I mentioned before, we are well equipped to handle periods of not eating so skipping a meal now and again will not only not be harmful, but can be beneficial. I find this type of fast to be easy to implement and pretty natural for the body. If preparing and eating a healthy meal is going to cause you stress, or you are travelling and there are simply no good options, or maybe you are trying to adjust to a new time zone, skipping a meal may be very appropriate. Again, just make sure that when you do eat again, you are refueling with high quality, nutrient dense foods.

Intermittent fasting is definitely not for everyone. It is not something that you need to do for your own health, it is just another tool in the toolbox that can be useful for some people. Generally, men tend to do better with longer fasting windows and fasting more often than women do. When in doubt or if you want to try something new, I always recommend working with a practitioner who can help you to work through what is best for you and your health.

 

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What's Up with Supplements?

Do we need them? I’d love to say no, but unfortunately given today’s environment the answer is yes for most people. Here are some of the reasons:

  1. Soil diversity and quality has declined in modern times, decreasing the nutrient density of the food that comes from this soil. Modern farming has also led to a reduction in the diversity of plant foods that we eat on a daily basis and an increase in environmental toxins. Not to mention, most people don’t eat nearly enough of the right foods to obtain the amounts of nutrients that our bodies thrive on.
  2. Our generation grew up with chronic antibiotic use, long-term use of birth control pills and other medications which wreak havoc on the liver and digestive and endocrine systems.  We have reached a point where healing the gut and reversing damage to our bodies require more than dietary changes.
  3. Our lifestyles today are challenging.  In general, we are chronically stressed, we have poor sleep quality and quantity, we are not getting enough activity and movement in or we are over exercising, and we don’t spend enough time connecting with nature or spending time with one another.
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I encourage my clients to obtain as many nutrients from food as possible because nutrient dense, whole foods are essentially pre-packaged nutrients that fit together naturally, containing many co-factors and enzymes required to absorb those nutrients. Though as I mention above, most of us are not obtaining the optimal level of at least some nutrients. Supplementation may be necessary indefinitely or for a period of time depending on the situation. For example, many of us are vitamin D and magnesium deficient. Other vitamins that we tend to be deficient in include vitamin A, K2, C, B12, selenium and iodine.  Given our years of consuming more omega-6 vegetable oils when saturated fat had a bad rap, many have an imbalance in their omega-3 / omega-6 ratio as well (they should be balanced).

Because we are all so different and our bodies have different needs based on our lifestyles, diets and history I don’t make blanket recommendations. The best way to determine what deficiencies you have is to work with a functional medicine or holistic practitioner. As practitioners, part of our job is to research and test the best supplements for our clients to ensure that they are getting the appropriate nutrients their body needs. We help to monitor any adverse reactions or interactions with other medications you may be taking and help ensure proper dosing and timing. Some nutrients are known to be toxic if taken in high doses. For example, vitamin A can cause liver problems, too much zinc can reduce copper in the body and vitamin E and selenium may be linked to prostate cancer.

It is also important to note that the supplement industry is not regulated by the FDA and is in fact, not regulated at all. Standards for quality do not exist and there is nothing keeping companies from making false claims on their packaging which is ineffective and even dangerous. A Canadian research group conducted a study on a variety of different generic brand supplements. They found that many of these supplements found in well-known pharmacies (e.g. Walgreens, Wal-Mart) contained unlisted fillers, contaminants, completely different compounds than listed, and in some cases no active herbal ingredients at all. Over 60% of the store brand supplements tested had incorrect labeling, and more than 50% didn’t contain the advertised ingredient.

Given this problem, it is very important to purchase high quality supplements from trusted source. It is also important to find brands whose products are considered to be pharmaceutical grade which are at the top-tier of quality and generally only dispensed (or at least endorsed) by practitioners and clinicians. These supplements are produced under rigorous laboratory conditions, tested for purity, contaminants, and are free of allergens and questionable ingredients. The companies package synergistic compounds together to help improve your body’s ability to absorb the active ingredients. You can also be sure that you will be getting only those ingredients listed on the labels, without fillers and toxins.

Supplements can have a place in our health journey, provided we use them sensibly and not at the expense of a whole foods-based, nutrient dense diet. Ignore the dogma that is rampant in the health and wellness industry about the latest and greatest supplement and figure out what will work best for YOU with the help of someone trained to do so. You may find that in the long run you save money on products and supplements you don’t need and actually feel better using the supplements that serve your mind and body and improve your health.

 

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Break Up With Diet Culture

Diet culture is something that is all around us yet most of us don’t think about it specifically or even know what it is. It feels normal to us even though it is anything but.  Diet culture exists because our society values the number on the scale over health and longevity. It sends the message that restrictive eating through calorie deficits and the elimination of food groups, or whatever fad diet is in favor will help us to lose weight and therefore make us happier and healthier. It also tells us that the more we work out and the harder we work out, the more likely we are to have six pack abs. It reinforces the belief that if you are thin and or appear fit that you are a happier person. Diet culture is black and white – putting foods into buckets labeled good or bad with the aim of creating shame in our minds so that we continue purchase products and services that will give us that “bikini body”, help us get our body back after having a baby, or give us the energy of our youth.

This culture wants us to be in the cycle of wanting to lose weight and trying to keep it off, hating our bodies and shaming ourselves, it wants us to feel like a failure or worthless when a “diet” isn’t working. They want us to spend more money on the next diet, supplement or workout program. We can choose not to engage in this cycle, but it is dificult because it is so engrained in our society today. We deserve better.

Diet Culture

 

Here are some strategies to help you reframe your thoughts and allow you to take charge of your mindset around health, while allowing you to stop feeding into, and thereby supporting diet culture: 

1. Instead of labeling foods as good or bad or eliminating certain foods just because you believe they are too high in fat, carbs or calories, try to think about all foods as neutral and really pay attention to how they make you feel.  Are these foods working for you, nourishing you and making you feel good? Stop reading labels for recommendations on how much you should be eating and eat what feels right to you, when it feels right and the amount that will nourish and sustain you. Aim to push out the guilt and anxiety associated with former “bad” foods. So long as the bulk of your meals are based on whole foods with lots of organic greens and vegetables (fiber), high quality proteins and healthy fats and you are feeling well generally, you can still enjoy some of the foods that our diet culture associates with guilt, shame or whatever else they have come up with to manipulate our thinking.

2. Stop exercising for punishment or to negate something that you ate and consider how exercise makes you feel. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t negate something you ate with running ten miles or taking two hours of spin class.  We have very little control over our actual metabolic rate. While our food intake accounts for 100 percent of the energy that we take into our bodies, exercise burns off only somewhere between ten and thirty percent depending on a variety of factors at that time. It is pretty hard to erase your diet with hours on the treadmill and it isn’t worth the time or the hardship to your body. More exercise isn’t always better.  In fact, most of the time it introduces more stress to your body. Over time the behavior of using exercise as punishment for poor dietary decisions can be extremely detrimental to your heath and your mindset.  Exercise should be something that brings you joy and should be used as a tool to make you feel strong in your body, have more energy and confidence and add to your health and well being. So seek out the forms of exercise that you enjoy and do them because you care about your body

3. Let go of the idea that the number on the scale or your clothing size determines your worth, capabilities, health or happiness. Diet culture will tell you time and time again to follow a specific plan and you will lose weight and therefore be a happier person. There are unhappy people at all sizes and your worth and capabilities in any capacity are not tied to your weight or how you look in a bathing suit.  This is a big one, especially with postpartum women. As new moms we often feel like we have to get our bodies back and in short order. Why?  Because in diet culture, we are made to feel that we are not ourselves until we can successfully fit into our old clothes and have the same body that we had before having children.  When you really think about it, is that even rational? Pregnant or not, our bodies change over time depending on our lifestyles, stress levels and seasons of life. A mother’s body should be celebrated for having the strength and amazing ability to carry a life, give birth and nourish that life. It is normal to not look the same afterwards because let’s face it, we are not the same afterwards.  Your body never goes away it just changes with your experience, just like it does with other life experiences.

When you stop spending so much time stressing about your weight and focus on living your life – spending time with your children, nourishing yourself with foods that make you feel good, move your body as we are designed to, and do things for yourself that bring you joy and peace, you may just find that you are happier.  You may never again fall into the trap of dieting and over-exercising only to fail and feel bad enough about yourself to do it again and again.

There are so many other ways that diet culture infiltrates the messaging we see all around us.  I could go on about this forever so I picked a few of the common themes I see. I hope this post helps you to think about how diet culture has influenced you over the years, what you can do minimize its harmful effects and move forward in a more positive way that can help your own health and mindset.  Hopefully over time the power that diet culture has over our society will diminish or even go away completely.

Let’s make it happen!

 

 

Practical Ways to Reduce Your EMF Exposure

Our bodies process thousands of toxins and environmental stressors on a daily basis.  There is a direct link between how many toxins we are exposing ourselves to and our ability to achieve optimal health and well-being. Some of these exposures are avoidable by changing what we put on in our bodies, on our bodies and what we do in our homes. These stressors are often hard to understand because they are not something that you can see or feel.

EMFs are electromagnetic fields and are all around us via electronic devices like our cell phones, Wi-Fi, electric wiring and lighting in our homes and even refrigerator motors. These EMFs pass through our bodies constantly, disrupting out bodies own unique electromagnetic energy field and potentially harming our cells by changing how our cells communicate with one another. While there is a huge amount of uncertainty over how harmful EMFs are to human health, there is a common theme that chronic EMF exposure may be related to ailments such as chronic fatigue, sleep issues, neurological and behavioral problems and even cancer.

EMF Exposure Unsplash

High levels of constant EMF pollution are most problematic, particularly for a subset of the population particularly susceptible to adverse symptoms from excessive exposure. Children also appear to be more vulnerable to EMFs than adults. Reducing exposure to on a daily basis can be helpful in achieving better health for you and your family. A great place to start is in our homes – where we can control the level of EMFs we are exposed to.

Here are some of the easiest and most economical ways I have found to reduce exposure:

  1. Change out the light bulbs in your homes from fluorescent or CFLs to incandescent.  I know, it seems this is moving backwards, but these newer bulbs give off radio frequency radiation in addition to UV radiation and dirty electricity. The old school incandescent light bulbs give off much less of these by-products (though they do use more electricity). Energy efficient LED light bulbs don’t contain radio frequency radiation or UV radiation, but they still produce dirty electricity.
  2. Reduce you exposure when you don’t need it – while you sleep. Start by putting your Wi-Fi on a timer in order to turn it off a night (cutting your exposure in half). You can also remove high EMF sources from your bedroom by putting your cell phone in airplane mode, turning it off or keeping it out of your room entirely. If you need to access your phone at night, keep it across the room from where you are sleeping to reduce your exposure to cell phone radiation.  You can also purchase a battery operated analog or LCD alarm clock. Keep other EMF emitting things like laptops, televisions, DVD players etc., out of your bedroom as these electronic devices are constantly emitting an EMF that affects you while you sleep and may even affect your sleep experience itself.
  3. Reduce your usage of cell phones and other devices including wearables like an Apple Watch or FitBit. Turn your Bluetooth off, and keep your phone in airplane mode whenever possible. If your kids play games or use apps on your phone or their phones, ensure they are playing in airplane mode. While the evidence on this isn’t totally clear, there may be a link between certain cancers (including brain) as well as infertility to high levels of exposure to cell phones.  Having your phone (or wearing it) close to your body is exposing you to constant radiation and EMF exposure.
  4. Take regular Epsom salt baths to reset and recharge your body.  For a great detox bath and a way to reduce the bodies’ toxic burden from chemicals and radiation, mix one cup of Epsom salt with a half cup of baking soda. Add 2-4 drops each of frankincense, lavender and juniper berry essential oils directly to the mix, then pour under running water. Do this as often as possible, at least once a week.

For more information on reducing your EMF exposure in and out of the home, I linked a few books and other sources below.

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