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.

“Breathing Dreams Like Air”

I love this quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald. It reminds me that today is another chance to make little moves towards whatever goals and dreams are whispering to me when things get quiet. 

My dream is to have a beautiful life. For me that means a healthy and happy family, financial security, good food, travel, art, lots of books, a peaceful mind, and love. 

I’m reading an amazing book right now, “The Four Agreements” by Miguel Ruiz. The main premise is that true peace and freedom from suffering is found when we do the following: 

 1) Be impeccable with your words (No gossiping or beating yourself up. Instead, use positive words towards yourself and others);

2) Don’t take anything personally (Nothing others do or say to you has anything to do with you, they are fighting their own demons);

3) Don’t make assumptions (Ask questions and establish clear communication with your partner and everyone else about what you want); and 

4) Always do your best. 

I am guilty of being extremely hard on myself, and have been on a long journey of self-love and acceptance. This book is another tool I will use to help create and nurture the beautiful life we all want and deserve. 


Dress: Leota

Boots: Nine West 

Bar Pendant: Nordstrom 

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.

 

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!

The Power of Pull-Ups

The pull-up is an important addition to any exercise regime, so why aren’t more women (and men) doing it? The pull-up has long been propagated as a male dominated exercise and that women simply don’t have the strength to accomplish even a single one. In fact, the Marine Corps still does not require female recruits to do pull-ups, opting instead for a timed flex arm hang. As you can probably infer already, I do not agree with this thinking.

The benefits of doing pull-ups far outweigh any preconceived notions of female physical prowess and stamina. Pull-ups efficiently strengthen multiple muscle groups comprising the back, shoulders, chest and arms. They also increase grip strength which is helpful for a variety of uses-in my case holding onto a wild two year old and approximately twenty-five grocery laden bags.

Understandably, as a system of levers, people with higher fat percentages and longer limbs have a harder time than smaller, more compact individuals, but that should not negate the engagement of the practice entirely. This is a case wherein the benefits outweigh the costs.

I first started doing pull-ups about two months ago, and I could do one-it wasn’t pretty. Undeterred, however, I came back to the bar everyday, and slowly my strength increased. I start by doing overhand pull-ups first and then switch immediately to underhand. I use a bench to position myself, then come to a complete dead hang. Next I bring my attention to my back muscles, not my arms, and pull myself up. I treat pull-ups like any other exercise, typically doing three sets of overhand and underhand, separated by short active recovery breaks. As seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsO9ApY63-E&feature=share

I am always amazed at how fast I progress when it comes to weight training. In this case I started with only being able to do one pull-up, and now within a session I can easily do thirty. So do not be afraid to start doing pull-ups everyday, you will feel stronger in a surprisingly short amount of time, and all other areas of your strength training will benefit as well.

5 Ways to Achieve Your Body Goals 

How does the old saying go? If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. That is precisely the case when it comes to finding and maintaining the motivation to workout and hit those bikini body goals. 

Life today is increasingly more fast-paced and for most people, making themselves a priority just doesn’t happen. I, like so many others, have struggled to find the time and mental fortitude to get my sneakers on and work my body the way I know it intrinsically wants. Over time I have homed in on five key strategies to ensuring that I will in fact follow through with the workout, and maintain that discipline for life. 

1. Have An End Goal In Mind

Is there a certain amount of weight you want to lose or gain? Do you want a better butt or six-pack abs? What does your goal look like? Before you begin you must have a vision of where you want to go. This can always change of course, and should, as you move along your journey. But you must start somewhere with clear and specific intentions. 

2. Create a General Schedule for the Week

It always helps to know what’s on the docket for any particular day so that you’re mentally engaged before you even begin. It doesn’t have to be incredibly detailed, but planning out your workout helps focus you on what needs to be done and removes any resistance or complacency. 

My schedule consists of three days of weight training (M,W,F) and two days of cardio (Tu., Th.). On the days I weight train, I change up the types of lifts I do, however I always include squats and some form of calistetics using my body weight as resistance (push-ups, lunges with dumbells, abs, donkey kicks etc). 

3. Track Your Diet

And this does not mean go on a diet–forget about calories. In fact if you are working out, you probably need to take in more calories than you are used to, however you must focus on the nutrient level and quality of the food you consume. Use an app like “My Fitness Pal” to input your weight, height, gender, age, and goals, and it will create a customized caloric and macronutrient guide for you. And don’t be put off by the word macros, its just a breakdown of the protein, carbs and fat in your diet. 

Diet is 80% of weight loss and affects your emotional and mental state, so this particular strategy should not be overlooked. We really are what we eat. 

4. Visualize the Endorphin Rush

On days where I am particularly reticent to workout, I close my eyes and imagine how amazing I feel at the end of my workout. Just by doing that I get a little boost, and it’s enough to get me up and moving. Our bodies want to move, they were designed to travel long distances and do incredibly hard labor in order to survive. Obviously today’s technological advancements eliminate that original paradigm, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept it. 

Just because you work an office job, doesn’t mean you have to have an office job body. So if you are feeling tired or sluggish, and going to the gym is the last thing you want to do that day, just center yourself and imagine how much better you’ll feel if you choose to sweat and push yourself. I guarantee you won’t regret it. 

5. Find Your Tribe

This last strategy is the final piece to finding and ensuring lasting success. As humans we are hard-wired to connect with others, it’s in our DNA. This applies in all ways, but especially in achieving workout goals and maintaining consistency. Anyone can workout for a few weeks, gyms are flooded January 1, but the tide soon fades because people feel that they are doing it all alone. If you don’t have a neighbor, family member or friend nearby, there are so many support avenues online. You found me after all! 

Reach out, connect over similar stories and motivations, and watch how soon you hold yourself and others accountable–it’s the best addiction there is. 

Life is messy and unpredictable, but if you make yourself a priority and develop these strategies, you are more likely to succeed in reaching your goals.