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.

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.

 

No Time To Workout? Try a Micro-Workout.

How many times have you said the words, “I just don’t have enough time to workout today” or “I’m just too tired to drive to the gym after working all day”? If you’re anything like me, chances are relatively high that you’ve talked yourself out of exercising due to time constraints or dwindling energy levels. Fortunately, you do not have to workout for an hour to maintain or even increase your fitness level. Micro-workouts are a great way to incorporate movement and strength training into your day without any real commitment.

Micro-workouts are ten minutes or less, and can be done with little or no equipment. If you’re not worried about scaring your co-workers, micro-workouts can be done deskside or in the stairwell. I choose to do my micro-workout first thing in the morning, as a way to loosen up, raise my metabolism for the day, and to encourage myself to drink at least a glass of water before I jump in the shower. I typically do a variation of push-ups, jump squats, core work, or quick spurt lateral movements. My favorite resource for these types of workouts is healthination.com. It has countless videos, most of which are in the ten minute range. I literally wake up, go downstairs, and go hard for ten minutes. I don’t even put shoes on–it’s really that easy.

Mirco-workouts are a great way to get your blood flowing and build strength. Researcher Eric Freese, Ph.D states, “It’s possible for an athlete to maintain or even increase fitness using shorts bursts of energy.” Freese ran subjects through four 30-second bursts of all-out cycling sprints three days a week over a six-week period, starting at four sets and gradually increasing to eight sets. “We saw improvements across the board,” Freese said. “Lowered triglyceride levels, increased mental energy, and improved overall mood as well.” You shouldn’t rely entirely on micro-workouts to stay in shape, but if you have a sedentary job, busy kids, or a long commute, these will help keep you happier, healthier, and more fit every single day.

These days being busy has become a badge of honor, but you owe it to yourself to make your health the number one priority in your life. Without it, you can’t perform at work, take care of your kids, or be an effective partner. Mirco-workouts provide a doorway into a life of better health that you can absolutely start right now. No excuses!

Want To Make Your Workouts More Efficient?

 

 

If your goal is efficiency, then adding weights to your routine is paramount. Using body resistance is fine, but the results you want will take longer to appear. I work fulltime so my lunchtime workouts have to be fast, but I don’t want to waste my time either.

In order to get the most out of my short break I forgo the treadmill and hit the weights. I train opposing muscle groups, also known as agonist-antagonist  training, which means if I work on hamstrings, I also do quads. Balance is key in all things, and that certainly applies to weight training.

I train opposing muscle groups every other day, but I focus on my core every single day. Your core is crucial for assisting in all other exercises, not to mention everyday activities. Using a 15-20 lbs dumbbell or kettlebell will skyrocket your core strength, and you will immediately notice how much better you feel sitting at your desk, bending over to pick something up, or even walking down the street. So make sure you’re adding weights into your workouts–even 5 lbs will make a difference, and enjoy the changes to come.

 

The Case for Working Out While Sick

Ever since I became a parent, I have been more frequently sick than I ever was before. And with the addition of children, any real downtime to recover, even with a helpful partner, is significantly diminished.

Far from anguishing in this new reality of my life, it actually has shown me that I am stronger than I realized and can push past momentary feelings of weakness and accomplish everything I need to do–to include exercising. Obviously if you are seriously ill this does not apply, but if you have a head cold, as I did this past week/weekend, read on.

Using the above-the-neck rule (i.e. stuffy nose, headache, sore throat) you can absolutely incorporate some moderate exercise while sick. If you are coughing heavily, or have ebola, you should probably rest and/or seek immediate medical attention. Deathly illnesses aside, moderate workouts while sick will immediately benefit you in three ways:

  1. Boost your mood: You feel terrible but you just worked out! You’re a bad ass, and now you have a rush of endorphins to carry you through the rest of the day.
  2. Detoxify: Sweating and drinking water while working out aids in more quickly expelling whatever is taking unwelcome residence in your system.
  3. Increase immunity: Moderate exercise while sick has been shown to stimulate the immune system and speed recovery. Plus, chronic resistance training has been shown to strengthen the innate immune system (nonspecific defense mechanisms that come into play immediately or within hours of an antigen’s appearance in the body. These mechanisms include physical barriers such as skin, chemicals in the blood, and immune system cells that attack foreign cells in the body.)

I personally feel better when I can move my body in some way when I’m sick, even at a reduced level. Furthermore, the training I did over the past weekend ensures that I don’t lose any momentum for the week ahead. Ultimately, you need to listen to your body, but take into consideration how beneficial a little activity can be the next time you’re feeling under the weather.

 

Fudge Brownie Protein Bars

Protein is an essential part of a healthy diet. It’s responsible for building and repairing tissue, and making enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicalsProtein aids in building bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. And children need an even greater percentage of protein compared to adults as they are constantly growing. 

Protein also serves as an important part of weight management. One study showed that eating approximately one daily serving of beans, chickpeas, lentils or peas can increase fullness, which may lead to better weight management and weight loss. (Li SS, Kendall CW, de Souza RJ, Jayalath VH, Cozma AI, Ha V, Mirrahimi A, Chiavaroli L, Augustin LS, Blanco Mejia S, Leiter LA, Beyene J, Jenkins DJ, Sievenpiper JL. Dietary pulses, satiety and food intake: a systematic review and meta-analysis of acute feeding trials. Obesity, 2014. Aug;22(8):1773-80.)

As a busy mom, I’m always on the lookout for healthy snack options for my family. I have tried to be like the French and not feed my kids (or myself) snacks inbetween meals, but that lasted all of thirty minutes before a revolution of another sort happened en route to Costco. In light of these harsh realities, I place a priority on finding snacks that won’t make my children resemble deranged chimpanzees five minutes after consuming them. Enter, the Fudge Brownie Protein Bar. 

Ingredients:

Bars

1 can of black beans

3 Tbsp cocoa powder

7 Tbsp chocolate protein powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/3 cup honey

3 1/2 Tbsp coconut oil

1 Tbsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/3 cup chocolate chips

Topping

Sprinkle sliced almonds and PBFit powder

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350

Puree the beans and mix in all the ingredients until smooth

Grease a glass pan and spread mix evenly

Sprinkle the almonds and PBFit on top

Bake for 20-25 mins

Once cooled, store in the fridge

 Enjoy!