Moms, Let’s Help Ourselves

We often forget that moms are individuals with a past and identity before having children. That moment when she finds out she’s pregnant, the focus immediately shifts from “me” to “we”, and that feeling only intensifies the older the child becomes. Therefore, in order to truly give something back to the moms in our lives, one must simply let her figure out how best she can renew herself. Everyone is different, the needs of one mom vary from one to another. One mom might need a night out with girlfriends, another a long hot bath and a good novel. The cure for what ails is bio-individual, but the need is undeniably there.

When I first became a mother, I was overwhelmed by the realization of that responsibility. Breastfeeding, tummy time, around the clock feedings and diaper changes all contributed to a culture shock I had mentally prepared for but not emotionally connected to yet. I felt extremely tired and the weight of responsibility was leveling. I had always been strong, but this new life as a mom required a higher, more intense level of resiliency I hadn’t acquired yet. I had to adapt, and I wasn’t sure how to do it. I was a fighting a losing battle against the tide, and I felt myself being pulled under.

It wasn’t until I had healed enough from giving birth and could workout, that I saw my first respite from the pull of the metaphorical undertow. The road became a lifeline to my former self to pull out of the constant drudgery of mundane daily tasks that motherhood requires. In the 30-60 minutes I was out on the pavement I felt lighter and lighter. Each step was a reclamation of my former self, and I breathed in the freedom I felt had escaped me. When I returned home, tired and exhilarated at the same time, I was at peace with my life again, and happy to dive into diaper changes, cuddling and even teething meltdowns.

Running and eventually yoga, weight lifting, and meditation, were the outlets I needed to be whole again–another mother may have a completely different set of requirements. I use myself as an example because it’s what I know for sure. What I also know without doubt is that as women, we are intrinsically selfless creatures. Sometimes we give so much of ourselves that the cup becomes empty, and that is where it becomes a matter of health.

Health is more than what is on our plates. It’s found in our relationships, our career, our connection with a higher power, and of course nutrition and exercise. It takes going inward to find out how we as mothers are doing in each of these categories, and then making the appropriate changes to make ourselves healthy and happy.

It may sound extreme at first for her to take 30-60 minutes for herself every single day, but if you think of the mother as the center of the home, it makes perfect sense to nurture her. The health and happiness of a home is almost always directly related to the sense of wellbeing of the mother. But no one can help a mother, she has to do the work and find what she needs to help herself. So mothers, do the internal work, and families support her. The result is a scenario where everyone wins, and the potential of every family member can be fully realized

A Month of Total Body Workouts

As part of my passion for holistic health and living a balanced life, I have unintentionally over the years, developed a sustainable workout routine that safely challenges and trains the entire body. My routine incorporates elements of weight-lifting, running, yoga, swimming, and HIIT (high intensity interval training) and the result is a strong and capable body that will serve you well into old age.

Below is my recipe for success for those of you who need some extra guidance and support, or others who are simply bored with their current routine and looking to add some fun dimension.

Please Note:

  • If you have health concerns, do not start this program before consulting a doctor.
  • Push through discomfort, but listen to your body to avoid injury.
  • 5×5 translates to 5 repetitions of 5.
  • Donkey Kicks and Fire Hydrants should be performed with a dumbbell tucked behind the knee.

The Breakdown

Every morning I wake before everyone else in my house, quietly sneak downstairs and complete 15-30 minutes of yoga and 5-10 minutes of meditation. I finish my practice with a few minutes of intention setting– focusing on how I want the day to flow, what I am grateful for, and what I’d like to manifest. This simple morning routine has drastically improved every aspect of my life.

Week 1:

Monday:  Run or Swim; Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs (100 Mountain Climbers, 60 Russian Twists, 100 Crunches, Plank); Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Tuesday: Weighted Squats (5×5); Leg Extensions (5×5); Hamstring Curls (5×5); Weight Press (5×5); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Wednesday: Spin Class or Run; Abs (100 Crunches, 30 Bicycles, 30 Elbow to Knee Crunches, Plank); Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Thursday: Bench Press (5×5); Overhead Press (5×5); Dumbbell Curls (5×5); Tricep Dips (5×5); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Friday: Rest Day

Saturday: Kettlebell workout (30-60 mins–YouTube) or Run; Abs (30 V-Ups, 30 Bicycles, 30 Russian Twists, Plank); Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Sunday: Restorative Yoga (1 Hour), Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Week 2:

Monday:  Run or Lap Swim; Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs (30 High Crunches, 30 Reverse Crunches, 30 Flutter Kicks, Planks), Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Tuesday: Weighted Squats (5×5); Leg Extensions (5×5); Hamstring Curls (5×5); Weight Press (5×5); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Wednesday: Spin Class or Run, Weighted Squats (5×5), 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pull-Ups (3 sets), Abs (5 min Plank–broken up)

Thursday: Weighted squats (5×5); Bench Press (5×5); Overhead Press (5×5); Landmine Press (5×5); Bent-over Row (5×5); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Friday: Rest Day

Saturday: HIIT Class or Run; Pull-Ups (3 sets); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Abs (100 crunches, 30 Russian Twists, 30 V-Ups)

Sunday: Restorative Yoga (1 Hour); Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Week 3:

Monday:  Run or Lap Swim; Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs (30 High Crunches, 30 Reverse Crunches, 50 Flutter Kicks, Plank), Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Tuesday: Weighted Squats (5×5); Leg Extensions (5×5); Hamstring Curls (5×5); Weight Press (5×5); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Wednesday: Spin Class or Run, Abs (30 Plank dips, 100 Mountain Climbers, 30 Bicycles), Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Thursday: Bench Press (5×5); Overhead Press; Landmine Press (5×5); Bent-over Row (5×5); Pull-Ups (3 sets); Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs: (100 crunches, V-Up w/ Rotation, 30 Russian Twists, Plank)

Friday: Rest Day

Saturday: Circuit Training Class or Run, Pull-Ups (3 sets), Abs (5 min Plank–broken up)

Sunday: Restorative Yoga (1 Hour)

Week 4:

Monday:  Run or Lap Swim; Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs (100 Crunches, 30 Russian Twists, 30 Flutter Kicks, Plank); Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Tuesday: Weighted Squats (5×5); Leg Extensions (5×5); Hamstring Curls (5×5); Weight Press (5×5); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pistol Squats (5×5); Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Wednesday: Spin Class or Run, Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs (100 Crunches, 30 Bicycles, 30 Elbow to Knee Crunches, Plank), Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Thursday: Bench Press (5×5); Overhead Press (5×5); Landmine Press (5×5); Bent-over Row (5×5); Pull-Ups (3 sets); Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs: (100 Mountain Climbers, 30 Side Plank Dips, 30 Russian Twists, Plank)

Friday: Rest Day

Saturday: Kickboxing Class or Run, Pull-Ups (3 sets), Abs (100 Crunches, 30 Russian Twists, 30 V-Ups, Plank)

Sunday: Restorative Yoga (1 Hour)
Lastly, remember to have fun with your workouts–don’t view it as a punishment for what you ate the night before, rather as a celebration of what your body can do!

 

 

How to Transition Away from Processed Foods and Regain Alignment with a Weekend Juice Cleanse

It’s no secret that addiction to processed foods is a reality in this country. Unfortunately, that means skyrocketing rates of obesity and inflammation in children and adults, and all the heath problems that accompany those maladies. No one wants to feel sick and out of control, but so many simply don’t know how to combat it. It’s a systemic problem, but happily, it is also one that can be remedied with intentional action.

Though I don’t suffer from any health problems, I am acutely aware when my poor food choices negatively affect the way my body and mind feel. When I start feeling lethargic and unmotivated, and I know that my diet of processed foods is to blame. I follow a vegan diet, but even with that, there are still plenty of opportunities to eat poorly and feel unwell. Faced with this realization, I know the best way to regain mental, physical, and spiritual alignment is to eliminate food altogether and engage in the age-old process of a fast. Fasts are great for jump starting weight loss, healing the liver and gut, skyrocketing energy levels, and focusing the mind.

Rather than engage in a super strict water-only regime, I typically choose to do a simple weekend juice cleanse–sticking to mainly raw organic fruits and veggies. It’s incredibly important to drink copious amounts of water while fasting. I start each morning with a liter of filtered water, and this practice is especially important during a fast when you are cleansing out your system. It also helps subdue hunger pangs. I also don’t abstain from drinking black organic coffee. Fasting purists would say that one must forego all caffeine during a cleanse, but there is so much evidence showing the benefits of coffee on the liver and gut, so I choose to consume in moderation. Lastly, exercise and meditation are two crucial components of a fast. Without them, the effects are not as formative, and the results don’t last as long. Fasting, gentle exercise, and meditation is the trifecta of actions that create a substative shift and bring one back into alignment and true health.

Before I begin a fast, I make sure to stock my fridge with plenty of organic fruit and veggies. If you’re going to be consuming only liquid nutrients, you don’t want them to be sprayed with pesticides. Also, you are more likely to stick with the cleanse if you have everything you need, and don’t have to run to the store. Each day will consist of three to six 8oz juices, depending on how much you need and want, so stocking up beforehand is paramount. Lastly, I ensure that my family is aware I intend to fast so that everyone knows to be supportive.

I have found that as early as the first day with the first juice I feel a surge of energy, my mind is sharp and my mood is euphoric. I typically make extra so that I have the next batch ready and I limit the amount of times I have to clean the juicer. In addition to nutrition, gentle exercise is highly recommended to aid in the cleansing process. A 15 minute HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout and some gentle yoga is a great way to eliminate toxins and purge the digestive system. I typically don’t feel any different during the HIIT portion than I normally would while not fasting, and my yoga practice always feels great and restorative. I concentrate on moves that focus on my back and abdomen (spinal twists, bridge pose, cat/cow, etc.) to encourage the cleansing process along even more.

It’s after working out, that I’m usually greeted by my first real hunger pangs. I reconcile this discomfort with remembering why I chose to cleanse in the first place and taking some deep meditative breathes. Studies show that cravings tend to last around 30 seconds, so if I make it past that point, I know I will survive–resolve intact. A meditation practice that focuses on cleansing, refocusing, and realignment is the perfect accompaniment to a fast, and makes a longer lasting impact after completion.

As the hours pass I notice how sharp I feel–sounds and smells are heightened and yet my mind is relaxed. I can see why so many people from around the world use fasts as religious and spiritual aides: it doesn’t just clarify the body, but the mind as well.

The second day of the fast is usually harder than the first. The excitement has diminished slightly, hunger is ever-present, but you will wake feeling lighter, more rested, and assuredly alive. Typically by day two there is a weight loss of 1-4 pounds. Seeing this quantifiable change is often the motivation I need to reach the finish line.

Day two’s workout should consist of some gentle walking and/or yoga and meditation. These types of activities will help curb hunger tremendously, create a sense of well-being, and restore focus for the week ahead.

By the end of the fast, ( I usually eat a light dinner Sunday night) I have increased my energy levels, gained a stronger sense of self-control and focus, crushed prior addictions to processed foods (i.e. sugar and salt), and feel completely at peace. Fasting is truly an amazing tool for encouraging self-discipline and eliminating spiritual, mental, and physical misalignment.

 

Four Unexpected Effects of a Plant-Based Diet.

Update: My article was published in elephant journal! You can find the latest version here: https://www.elephantjournal.com/2017/05/four-unexpected-effects-of-a-plant-based-diet/

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What if I told you that you could do something today that would make you look and feel amazing, save lives and the earth? I think without knowing what that action was, most if not all people would agree to trying it. Unfortunately, when that action involves breaking with societal norms and traditions, the decision to change is harder fought. My only viable option then, is to share my own experience of how going vegan and relinquishing all meat and dairy from my plate, drastically changed my life in unexpected and beautiful ways. My ultimate purpose is that someone reading this will be curious enough to try the experiment out for themselves, and watch their own life transform for the better. 

Common sense dictates that when you eat more fruits and vegetables, while simultaneously eating less sugar, processed foods, and fat, you will feel better. A diet consisting mainly of meat, eggs, and dairy has been proven to sink the body into a state of inflammation which leads to disease and a poor quality of life riddled with medication and corrective surgeries. But what I found surprising is that in the past few months while I slowly eliminated meat, then eggs and dairy in favor of a plant-based diet, I experienced a myriad of benefits that I never anticipated. Aside from feeling happy about my choice to live an environmentally friendly existence, I experienced perks that I had not even considered when making my initial decision to become vegan. I knew I would feel clearer and have more energy, but I never expected these next four items to happen, and certainly not so suddenly.

Sleep: Within days of eating a diet free of meat, eggs, and dairy, I started needing less sleep. Typically I would feel exhausted by 9:00 pm. Right after putting my two young boys to sleep, I would want to crash too, and often did much to my husband’s dismay. Our time to talk and bond as friends and a couple was truncated because all I wanted to do was clean up the dinner dishes and get to bed. This shifted almost immediately when I began consuming more dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans, fruit and grains. And aside from having more energy at night, my quality of sleep improved. I fell asleep fast, and slept soundly all night, which was not typical for me.

Before the switch, I would toss and turn to get to sleep (despite being overly tired) and would wake frequently throughout the night. The result was that I was groggy and reluctant to get out of bed in the morning. I set the alarm for 5:00 am so I can practice yoga and mediation, and usually it’s a battle for my feet to hit the floor. Not so under this new diet, and that’s with receiving even less sleep that I was used to getting. Now when the alarm sounds, I am alert and ready to start my day from a place of mindfulness and strength while the rest of my house soundly sleeps.

Athletic Endurance: I love to workout, it’s something that has been a constant companion my entire life. It’s rarely a chore, and something I honestly enjoy. Through working out I connect with my body and reach meditative states I can’t by simply sitting still on the floor. That’s why I was intrigued when I went completely plant-based, and my running felt different. I felt as though I could run forever, there was no resistance in my lungs, heart, or legs. My body moved in synchronicity, perfectly free and full of life. The amount of energy I source from nutrient dense foods has changed that way my blood flows when taxed, and I sensed it immediately. It has been shown that patients with high cholesterol and arterial blockages can improve their vascular health by switching to a plant-based diet. The body wants to heal itself, and it will if you only let it. It takes about three hours for the arteries to de-harden after the consumption of food high in salt and fat, which is usually when they are hit again with another damaging meal. Imagine what happens when you let the body go into a state of healing instead of destruction, and imagine what happens if you don’t.

The change I felt in running carried over to the weight room too. The weights felt lighter, and my recovery time was shorter between repetitions. Usually, the day following a tough weight session, I am sore, but I felt very little of that. At first I thought I was just having a good day, then a good week, but I saw the same encouraging results each time I went to the gym. My performance had definitely improved, and the only variation was the quality and make-up of my diet. After my workout, I typically drink a protein shake or eat an apple and it carries me through until dinner, no 2:30 pm sugary snack needed.

Sugar Addiction: Sugar is one of the most damaging ingredients in the human diet, and one of the most addicting. I certainly was not immune to its pull, however with an abundance of fresh fruits and veggies in my diet, my urge for soda, candy, and yes even Nutella has subsided substantially. Its been theorized that sugar cravings are actually caused by a depletion of nutrients such as phosphorus, magnesium, and chromium. Because I was getting plenty of the core nutrients my body needed, my usual sugar cravings evaporated. And as a result of consuming less sugar, I noticed my skin, hair, and nails looked better. I was healing my body from the inside on a cellular level, and it was showing on the outside.

Relationships: Truly happy people have a good relationship with themselves first, and feeding yourself well and with care, is the ultimate act of love to your body, mind, and spirit. By choosing to eat nutritiously and mindfully, I show myself love everyday, and that impacts how I interact with my sons, husband, family, co-workers, and friends. My improved levels of energy, athletic performance, and general sense of well-being made me happier and more excited about life and my relationships. It’s a scenario where everyone wins. Plus the more I talk about how great I feel, the more questions I receive about it. At first there is always a joke, usually accompanied with an eye-roll, but then more often than not, the conversation transforms to honest curiosity and openness about how a plant-based diet changed my life for the better, and how it could change theirs too.

The list above details just a few examples of how going vegan has had an enormous impact on my quality of life, and I am looking forward to discovering more as time goes on and I get more creative with my recipes. For those individuals who inexplicably deride a vegan lifestyle because it opposes cultural norms, I just want to convey that we have one life and one body, and to truly honor yours and live your best life, you need to actively take control of what you put in your body. And who knows what exciting ways your life might improve if you are curious enough to try a plant-based diet out for yourself.

Chocolate Strawberry Banana Protein Smoothies

One of my favorite shows, Chopped, challenges competitors to make delicious meals out of seemingly random ingredients. I am no chef, but I enjoy pretending I’m on the show when faced with a surplus of leftovers or fruit that’s a tad too ripe. 

Such is the case today when I opened the fridge and found a full container of strawberries that were not long for this world. I decided to whip up healthy protein smoothies for me and the boys and they turned out delicious!

Ingredients:

2 cups of strawberries 

1 banana 

1 package of GoGo Squeeze Organic Strawberry Banana Applesauce 

1 scoop of chocolate protein powder

1/2 cup of chocolate milk

Ice (optional) 

To Be Happy Means to Be Creative

Albert Einstein once said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” Since starting a blog I have been asked countless times why I was doing it, and the question honestly caught me off-guard. For me, writing is a facet of expression, a way I can share who I am with those who know me, or think they do. Most people have an idea of who they think someone is, I’m equally as guilty–but unless you spend substantial time with a person, you never really know who they are, what they have experienced, or what they might be going through. When we leave the house we are ever ready with a smiling face and shiny exterior, even though it is not always the case.

Through writing, I am able to share an honest picture of who I am, and perhaps inspire someone else in the process to take down the mask and revel in the freedom that an authentic existence can bring. What could be more fulfilling? I have always loved and admired artists- they are fearless, and they unabashedly share their souls with the world through their chosen art form. Though writing, I wanted to embody that freedom and truth too.

And it’s not just me who senses the benefits of living a more creative life. A recent psych study showed that daily engagement in creative activities (i.e. journaling, painting, doodling, cooking, etc) positively activated emotional states and lowered stress and anxiety. Participants in the study reported an immediate increase of feelings of well-being, and “an upward spiral” of positive emotions.

I can attest to the truth of this study. Since starting the blog a short while ago, I have experienced an overwhelming response from friends and strangers on how they have been inspired by what I’ve written, and that confirmation means everything. Each time someone reached out, that ephemeral connection we are all constantly searching for was there, and I was grateful in that moment with that person.

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Choose an art form that interests you. It could be anything from cooking, to drawing, or even creating boards on Pinterest with images that spark your imagination. The point is that you are engaging in an activity where your mind is activated in creative way.
  2. Try to do at least 10 minutes of your chosen art form a day. Start small, and then go from there. If you can incorporate at least 10 minutes every single day, you will start to receive the brain benefits, and it’s a goal that is small enough that you minimize the probability of failure.
  3. Ritualize your art by making this activity a regular part of your day. Pick a time of day that works best for your schedule, thereby increasing the chance that you’ll actually do it. I know that I have a half hour when I get home to cook, it’s scheduled.
  4. Track your progress. How did you mentally feel week 1? Week 2? How have you improved, and what have you learned? Write down wins so you can remember them. A great journal might work for you.
  5. Continue your practice each day. Make it a habit until it becomes second nature, the reward is a better brain and genuine happiness.

Moms, Stop the Self-Shaming and Be Selfish.

How does a parent (especially a mother) justify taking time away from their family to do something completely indulgent and self-aggrandizing like working out, reading a book in one sitting, or just being alone? Why is taking space for oneself considered abhorrent and selfish in this society? It may be due to unattainable expectations put on parents-both moms and dads, and the shame that goes along with failing to live up to what we erroneously think is the standard. Author Brene Brown described this situation perfectly when she said, “Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.”

This is how I lived for a long time when I first became a mother. I remember feeling this overwhelming weight of responsibility and it terrified me. How would I ever be enough for this little person? How could I show him the way when I barely knew what I was doing? These feelings of shame came to a head one night as I was giving my son a bath, and I just started to cry. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough, or being enough for him. I couldn’t understand why he had cried for four hours that day, or refused to eat everything I offered him. I was failing. It was a false story playing over and over in my head, brought on by fear and shame.

Fortunately, the best way to break the perpetual cycle of outlandish expectations and subsequent self-shaming is to bring it into the light. I started talking to my husband, fellow moms, and co-workers about how I was feeling. I hated being vulnerable and showing weakness, but I couldn’t carry the burden of my critical thoughts alone anymore. It was a sink or swim moment, and I had to survive. I was amazed at the response I received. More often than not, the moms mirrored exactly how I was feeling. They told me about situations where they had felt “less than” or had messed up, and it enabled us to laugh and revel in the mutual suffering of early motherhood. In hearing their stories and sharing my experience, I realized I wasn’t alone. Everyone had these feelings, especially the new mothers. Through those simple, albeit vulnerable, conversations, I had been thrown a lifeline and I realized I had been thinking about my role and responsibility as a mother all wrong.

Once I realized that my experience wasn’t unique, I could relax. I started to make self-care a priority in my life. I realized how damaging my casual relationship with exercise and healthy food had been since having my son, and I made a conscious decision to make health and self-respect the priority. Now I tell all my friends who are expecting, and even those who aren’t, that when you have children it is even more important to take care of yourself. The emphasis you place on your own physical, mental, and spiritual well-being directly impacts your children. As parents we are the first example of how a healthy, happy, human being should exist in the world, and owe it to them and ourselves, to be an example of self-love so that they can embody that mindset too.

Five years after that first tearful session with my son looking up at me from the bath, healthy habits have developed into a mindset and way of being. I realized how important my health and sanity was for my family, and I was never going back to that role of martyr and self-doubter. I was going to be selfish and carve out time for myself to workout, read, meditate, and just be without feeling guilty or shameful about it. Then I would return to the fold, rejuvenated, reenergized, and truly present. I brought the breath of fresh air I had just received into every action and conversation with the boys, and my happiness was contagious. They benefited directly from the space I had taken for myself, and learned that it was normal for mom to not always be immediately available for every need they had. My relationship with my husband has grown even stronger too, as I rely on him to help provide me the ability to take care of myself, while not having to worry about the boys. And I do the same for him when he needs space. His choices for self-care include ice hockey, cooking unobstructed, or sometimes just listening to music.

It may seem like a tall order at first to make the switch, but I have found that if you are consistent in your healthy habits, you really will become what you practice. My husband loves to say that personal growth is the hardest things anyone can do–and I agree. To truly change and elevate yourself to a higher level, it takes a breach from hardwired, second-nature tendencies and such a deviation takes serious dedication. But if you see, as I did, that your selfishness is for the good of the entire family, and you are consistent in your efforts of self-care–positive life changes can and will happen, and your family will thank you.