2019 Healthy Habit 1: Getting Enough Rest

From my previous post I talked about how my motivation is not at it’s peak in January and February. It comes with spring, so although a new month and year is a great idea to start new goals, I usually fizzle out in a few weeks and then go back to my old routine I had at the end of the year before. You have to be honest with yourself when it comes to goals and this is one of my honest moments. So instead what I do, and encourage those who have the same problem, is I think of things you can start doing now that are healthier habits, or the habits you can start now that will help with your motivation when it comes time for the more challenging habits later.

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Sleep In The Winter

The days get darker, the stress gets higher, and depression for a lot of people can be the worst in January and February. We are all just trying to make it to sunnier days. Some sleep more. Others are not able to sleep well. The less sunlight the more melatonin our bodies create and thus makes us more tired and sleepy. And the added emotional stress darker days can bring, it can have the opposite effect and keeping us up. So just because you might feel drowsy doesn’t mean you should keep hitting the snooze. Or just because “you don’t feel tired” doesn’t mean you can play another episode of your favorite show. No matter the time of year, our bodies still require the same amount of sleep. Of course the heavier meals, darker days, and warm cozy blankets make it hard to not to just want to nap and sleep longer. This is something I have to constantly have self control in.

Is there a danger in sleeping too much?

Sleeping Over 8 Hours On Average

Studies have shown that people who sleep more than 8 hours or up towards 10 hours have poorer health. Here are some of the results.

  • Increases heart disease
  • Harder to maintain a healthy weight
  • Can raise blood sugar levels
  • Brain fuzziness
  • They wake up more frequently & not getting enough deep sleep
  • Effect moods

Sleep is good and sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your health, but too much of a good thing can be bad. If you are sick or recovering from surgery – then sleep as long as you need. But on a regular basis, oversleeping can be just as bad for you in different ways than not sleeping enough.

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Not Enough Sleep And Nutrition

For one thing we know sleep is important for the brain although it stays highly functional throughout sleep. It helps with moods, anxiety, we can think clearer, make better decisions, and are more motivated. We know it also effects our energy levels. When we are tired, we sleep, and (usually) we wake up and have energy to last the day. Sleep gives your digestive system time to rest. When you sleep the need for fuel is reduced and your metabolism and digestive system slows down. It also gives your digestive system added energy the next day to do it’s job.

What about specifically nutrition?

Sleep Deprivation:

  • Makes you more vulnerable to inflammation. Those with inflammatory digestive disorders like IBD or IBS, sleep deprivation can make this worse, and then lead to a lack of nutrient absorption.
  • Makes you crave sugar. Since you didn’t get a good night’s sleep your body wasn’t able to recharge like it needs to, so it’s crying out for energy! Your cell’s #1 source of energy is glucose (sugar). You start craving sugar in the morning and usually will reach for the less nutritious kinds of it. Move over apples, hello doughnuts!
  • Makes you more hungry. Your hunger hormone, ghrelin, is elevated after a poor night’s sleep to be able to get more energy through food that it lacked through sleep.
  • Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter and regulator when it comes to sleep. It is primarily found in your gut and is also essential for your digestive functions. If your levels of stress and sleep hormones, including serotonin, are not balanced, that means your digestive functions will be unbalanced as well. Your digestive tract won’t be able to absorb nutrients like it usually does or move the way a healthy gut would.
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Bottom Line

Whether you are sleeping over 8 hours or sleeping 6 or less hours a night, get your sleep schedule back on track for your mental and physical health. People vary when it comes to their sleep needs, but normal hours are anywhere from 6.5 – 8 hours. Here are some basic things that can help.

Sleeping Too Much (More than 8 hours):

  • Sit up when you turn off your alarm.
  • Turn your light on. I have a lamp on my night stand that isn’t too high voltage so it doesn’t blind me, but has light. Light helps to wake your body up naturally.
  • Wake up and go to bed relatively at the same time (within 30 minutes) every day.
  • Have a wake up routine. Once I sit up I do something to stimulate my brain. Even just texting my husband good morning, since he’s usually gone by the time I wake up, will help. Then onto morning stretches and going out of the room to get my morning glass of water.

Sleeping Too Little (6 or less hours):

  • Set a time to be in bed 30 minutes or an hour before when you are suppose to be asleep.
  • No screens while in bed.
  • No alcohol an hour or two before bed. Although it’s a depressant and can make you feel sleepy, it doesn’t help your body naturally slow down, and puts excess stress on your liver when it already will be detoxing while you sleep. Alcohol also doesn’t help you stay asleep once you are asleep. A lot of times when I had a glass of wine too close to bed, I’ll wake up a good 3-4 times a night because I can’t stay asleep.
  • Have a night time routine. Some nights that might be hard for me to go to bed, I make an herbal tea – sometimes meant for sleep, sometimes not. I do something that is relaxing and doesn’t involve a screen. Reading a book or magazine, coloring, drawing, etc. Some additional things might be lighting a candle and listening to calm music while in bed.

Sweet dreams y’all!

What to Do to Ward Off Winter Blues

Darker and shorter days are here. The time we had in spring and summer is now cut “shorter” with earlier sunsets and gloomy days. I know it effects me, although I love fall and winter foods and clothes. The further we get into winter, the worse it gets. A lot of people have been diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder. Most, at the least, feel the effects of winter days and notice the difference in how they feel in winter compared to summer. Is there anything you can change in your routine or diet to help? Let’s talk about a few ideas to try and a few things I know that have helped myself and my family. Then we will get into some foods you can add to your diet that are mood boosters!

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Sleep – Stick to a Schedule

Sleep is an important part of any healthy routine. It decreases anxiety, helps to maintain a healthy weight, and improves our memory.  Since we repair when we sleep, it’s no wonder why it helps with recovery (including in the brain), and aids our immune system by helping to take care of some inflammation in the middle of the night. In winter time it almost feels like our bodies go into hibernation mode. Sticking to a schedule of when you go to bed and when you wake up can help in general, but especially in the winter. They are saying now that sleeping more than 8 hours (when you are not sick or recovering from surgery) can be unhealthy. It messes your system up. So shoot for 7-8 hours a night, no more, no less.

When your body knows when it’s time to wake up, whether the sun is up or not, it will produce the hormones it needs to naturally wake up around the time your alarm goes off. If you are like me and already have a hard time waking up in the morning without hitting the snooze, try going to bed and waking up roughly around the same time every day, weekend days or not. Not only will your body be ready to wake up and move, but your mind will be better equipped to take on the day.

Sticking to a schedule has helped me. I noticed I’ll start waking up a few minutes before my alarm goes off, which means my body is naturally producing the hormones to wake me up. Some days, not so much. It takes time, but if you stick to it, it’s worth it. Your body naturally sticks to a schedule, and that includes sleep.

 

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Get Sunshine Whenever You Can
Increase Your Vitamin D

I live in Texas. We get a lot of sun most of the year. And the winter isn’t that long. But when your body is used to sunny days for half the year or more and then going to rainy overcast gloomy days, 3 days of that can feel like years. It feels like a yo-yo effect some times. So whenever there is some sunshine, I try to make sure I take in every bit of it that I can. Keep the blinds open during daylight hours as much as you can. Your body wants natural light. If you can walk outside during your lunch break, go for a walk, even 5 minutes. Early afternoon time is when the sun is the brightest in winter. Even if it’s overcast. Fresh air and daylight, filtered or not, helps.

We naturally get “vitamin D” from the sunlight. There’s a whole process that our bodies go through that takes the sunlight, transforms it into something we can store, and then when needed activates it to what we call vitamin D, so that we can use it inside our bodies. Just like plants, we need our sunlight. When the sunlight is restricted, taking vitamin D supplements helps. It can help to improve your mood during those months that you can’t get as much sun as your body became use to in summer. If you already take vitamin D, talk to your doctor about if you should increase the dose in the winter if you don’t already do so.

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Start a Project and Plan Ahead

Keep your mind active. Become creative. Start a hobby. Have something to look forward to doing other than sitting and watching TV when you get home. Do something with your hands while you stay warm inside with a cup of tea. Also, staying proactive with planning outings like dinners, movies, inviting people over, and so on, can help. Stay active and don’t close yourself off too much. I’m the type of person that needs to have some time alone to recharge, especially in winter, but too much of anything can be bad. Keep your balance.

You can even plan a vacation during winter months just to get away from the norm. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, but getting out of your normal routine and away, even a day trip, can give your brain the rest it needs from the every day stresses that are at home.

 

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Bright Colors

Bright colors are known as happy colors because they can brighten our mood. Having clothes with colors other than grey and black is part of it. Or, if your like me who wears a lot of black already, add the color in jewelry, scarves, etc. Keep bright colors in your house too. Fresh flowers in the kitchen or in the bedroom when you wake up can stimulate your brain and start off your day with a positive attitude.

I usually try to have a small vase, like the one in the picture, in the bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen. It doesn’t take much and you can buy a bouquet at the grocery store and have the flowers spread throughout the house. It’s something little but once I started doing it the more I loved it and the more I missed it if I didn’t have some sort of fresh flowers in the house.

 

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Keep Moving

Just because it’s colder outside doesn’t mean you can’t move. That’s something I have to repeatedly tell myself in winter. Even if it’s inside, keep some sort of an exercise routine. Exercise helps our health in many ways, but specifically for what we are talking about, it elevates your mood because it helps our bodies produce endorphins. Then there is the fact that in the winter we eat heavier foods, so exercising helps our bodies digest and feel better although we might of had a huge pile of mashed potatoes at dinner. When I feel light instead of sluggish or bloated, I feel better about myself which adds to the positive attitude we need in winter.

This is probably the hardest one for me because I can’t stand being cold. And thinking about going outside in the cold to do something that already is hard to get my mind to accept is even harder. Having others with you helps. But even if it’s just a 10 minute walk or jog around the block everyday whenever you can fit it in, helps.

 

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Winter Mood Foods

Here are some foods you can add to your diet in winter or have as your snack after lunch time to help make sure your body and brain are getting the right “feel good” nutrients.

To Increase Omega 3s and help with brain function

  • Salmon
  • Turkey
  • Flax Seeds
  • Walnuts

Increase Folic Acid to help increase Serotonin

  • Leafy greens
  • Oats
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Oranges
  • Lentils

Increase Trytophan to help increase Serotonin and Melatonin

  • Turkey
  • Bananas
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Chickpeas

It’s not a cure, but doing these things and adding more of these foods in your diet can help.

Stay warm, well fed, stay active, and sleep well this winter season!

 

How to Keep Your Bloat Down in Colder Months

I don’t know about you, but I love how fall and winter food taste more than what it does to me. The starch and sugary heavy foods takes it’s toll not just outwardly but internally. Not only do I usually gain a little, but my skin gets worse, and my digestion just isn’t the same as it is in the spring and summer. More gas and bloating. I wanted to share with you a few things I like to keep in mind to help with the unwanted bloat and digestive upsets fall and winter can bring on.

Fun fact: Feeling sick to your stomach is also known as being “bilious”. I’ve also heard it in reference to gas whether belching or flatulence. As you can guess the word is related to bile. But the word bilious also means “bad tempered”. So anything that makes you bilious I like to think is causing your digestive system to become “bad tempered” and it’s having a fit. 

I like to refer to fall and winter eating and habits as my “hibernation mode”. You sleep more. The colder weather makes us eat more quantity and more calorie dense foods because your body is working harder and needing to add more “wood to the fire” to keep you warm. Those foods usually tend to be high in bad fat, processed sugar, and a lot of starch which turns into sugar. That combination is bad for your digestive system and your gut when in excess. So how can you keep your gut healthy and happy until spring?

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Start Your Day with Apple Cider Vinegar (with Mother)

I started doing this first thing in the morning when I would have my water when I was getting ready. Add a tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar (ACV) with mother, to your glass of water and get going! I started this because my allergies are the worst in the fall and winter. (The benefits of ACV and allergies are found here on an earlier post.) Because of this, I started taking ACV in the morning. It helped with my allergies, but I also noticed it helped with the gas I would get after having a heavy starchy meal the night before. So I kept at it.

ACV helps your digestive system more than just adding some probiotics. It also increases stomach acid which can be decreased with excess starch, sugar, stress, and alcohol. Sounds like fall and winter to me! If you don’t have enough stomach acid the digestive enzyme pepsin is reduced because it can only thrive in an acid environment, then your food (specifically proteins) are incompletely digested from the beginning and the rest of your system can have a hard time breaking it down – which could be the cause of gas and bloating.

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Make Sure To Get Your Probiotics

Whether it’s yogurts, kombucha, or a pill, make sure to keep up with your probiotics. This adds good bacteria that breaks down your food in your small intestine and thus helps the whole process. It helps keep you regular as well as helping you digest things you have trouble digesting. James is lactose intolerant and by eating yogurt in the morning as part of his breakfast he can more easily digest milk.

Probiotics also create enzymes that destroy harmful bacteria increasing your immune system. Something that is definitely needed during the colder months. It’s been said that the majority of our immune defense is in our gut. Make sure to keep your gut healthy and functioning as best as you can!

 

Now onto some tips and tricks I’ve found to be helpful for me.

One of the biggest things I’ve come to realize is that most of my bloat comes from eating my starch/sugar with high amounts of fat. So although I can eat my weight in buttery mashed potatoes, I keep my portions appropriate and make sure it’s on the plate with vegetables, whether a salad or roasted carrots, to help.

  • Processed sugar kills the good bacteria in your gut.
  • Starches can cause gas when being broken down. Starches in excessive quantity, you can well imagine.
  • Fat slows down the digestion process and slows down the functioning of the intestines, and by default slows down any relief.

So if you are eating the trifecta – sugary foods, excessive starch, and it’s high in fat – you can be in for some discomfort and bloat. Keep in mind it is not just with one dish. It’s in combination of what you eat throughout the day.

Here are some ideas to cut down on the regular foods and drinks colder months bring to us.

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Fattening Hot Drinks

Nothing is better than getting something warm to sip on a cold rainy winter day. I love coffee. So warm lattes of all flavors call to me. And then there’s the classic hot cocoa on a below freezing night. Perfect! But like I said before, sugar and cream together can be just the combination to kick start my bloat and gas. Keeping the portions appropriate is also key. Although you CAN drink a 24 ounce pumpkin spice latte it’s better if, on the regular, you didn’t douse your system with fat and sugar in a liquid state. So instead of doing that, try some of these options.

  • Hot Teas
    • Herbal teas are always one of my options when I want something hot to keep me warm and to keep my hydration up. Some are naturally sweet like hibiscus that doesn’t have any sugar.
    • Try your favorite tea with a low-fat milk if you’re craving something creamy
  • Hot Apple Cider
    • Hot apple cider can be good in small portions. However, this can still give your system an overload of sugar so make sure to keep it to an 8 oz. serving. Adding cinnamon can help to keep your blood sugar regulated when you sip on it, and make sure not to drink it after a heavy meal since it is high in sugar.
  • Coffee
    • If you don’t like straight up black coffee, then I suggest having either cream OR a sweetener in it, but not both together
    • Chocolate lover? Try chocolate coffee. Add a scoop of ground cocoa to your coffee when brewing. You’ll have a mocha without the sugar or the added fat. And like with the other suggestion, you can add cream OR a sweetener but not both.
  • Lattes
    • Having a regular cafe’ latte without any added flavors or sugar and using low fat, almond, or soy milk is a better option
    • Chai tea lattes can be made at home with a low fat milk and using a small amount of honey or agave to add just enough sweet to compliment the spice.
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Trim Down Your Sides

Cold months usually come with some delicious side dishes, but most have a lot of butter and a lot of starch or sugar added to it. Here are some suggestions on what we make to lessen the blow to your gut. Most are roasted veggies. They are my favorite way to cook vegetables! I’m sure at some point I’ll be sharing my version of these recipes with you. *Bread stuffing I haven’t figured out yet… you’re on your own with that one for right now.

  • Green Bean Casserole made with Cream and Fried Onions
    • Roasted Green Beans with Sliced Almonds, Sprinkled with Parmesan
  • Sweet Potato Casserole with Brown Sugar, Marshmallows, & Butter
    • Roasted Chopped Sweet Potatoes with Pecans and a Drizzle of Honey & Cinnamon
  • Mashed Potatoes made with Cream and Butter (oh man…)
    • 1/2 it with Mashed Cauliflower and use a Low-Fat Creamer
    • Roasted Rosemary Potatoes with a small amount of Olive Oil
  • Yeast Rolls
    • Whole Wheat Yeast Rolls without Excessive Butter or Olive Oil (One of the best moments of my life is when I saw these in the frozen department… whole wheat and I don’t have to make them!)
Some other healthy side ideas to keep in mind:
  • Roasted Carrots with Dill and Paprika
  • Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Grapes
  • Apple & Fennel Salad
  • Roasted Beets
  • Sauteed Kale with Lemon Juice and Garlic
In Conclusion
  1. There is a time for everything including your starchy fattening dishes. Just not with every meal or every week.
  2. Balance is needed, so choose your starchy, sugary, fattening meals sparingly.
  3. Increase your stomach acid to help break down your food better with apple cider vinegar with mother.
  4. Increase your probiotics and keep a good routine of having them in your diet.
  5. Reduce the amount of fat and sugar eaten during the fall and winter, and try not to have them together.
  6. Turn your “bad tempered” gut into a happy gut!