When you hear the word food, what do you think of?
- A slice of pie from your favorite pizza joint?
- Junior mints while watching the latest thriller in the theaters?
- Mom’s mac and cheese?
- Heartburn and indigestion?
- A succulent cherry tomato from your garden?
- Grilled fish that you just caught with your fishing buds earlier that day?
- Weight gain?
This past weekend I had the pleasure working with a new group of youth – WILL (Wilderness Leadership & Learning). WILL is a highly interactive 12-month, experiential-learning, youth-leadership, and life-skill-development program based out of Columbia Heights in Washington DC. On Saturday, we explored our relationship with food through journaling and discussion and it turned out to be an interesting and event enlightening activity for these teenagers.
I asked the students to journal about their relationship with food through words and illustrations. I asked them to consider the following:
Do particular foods come to mind? Events? People? Positive or negative feelings? Or maybe a little bit of both?
We had a variety of responses from Chipotle to Grandma’s oatmeal to chemicals to the food distribution system to hunger. You see, although there is overlap, all of us have a different experience with food. As I explained to the students, eating is the most intimate act we do with ourselves each and every day. It’s also one of the most important things we do each day, as our relationship with food will determine the future of both our mental and physical health.
Eating is not just an act of nourishment. It’s also an act of social justice and environmental stewardship. When we eat, we make a choice about what type of agriculture/land practices and farm worker conditions we support. We get to decide which if we want to support the family farms in our community or one in Chile.
Eating is social and spiritual. I spoke with the teenagers about the experience of eating and the people with whom we love to break bread. We also talked about fasting as a spiritual practice. Many of us have rituals that connect us to our food and ourselves.
For me, my relationship with food appears so simple and mind boggling, all at the same time. I’ve been exploring my relationship with food for a long time and have been involved in almost all sectors of the food system, from seed to plate. I’m amazed at how a simple thing like food can wreak so much havoc on the health of our environment and communities in one situation and then completely heal so many people, both physically and emotionally, in another context.
So I ask you, what is your relationship with food?
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Winter is here and “germs” are everywhere. Guess what? They always have been. Unfortunately, germs are blamed as the cause of sickness when a weak immune system is the real culprit. Why are our immune systems weak? A variety of factors contribute to this weakness including stress, lack of sleep, poor diet, lack of exercise, overuse of alcohol or medications and dehydration.
So what can you do to support your immune system this winter? I suggest adding alkaline, nutrient-dense foods in your diet such as chlorophyll-rich greens like kale, parsley and cabbage, anti-microbial veggies such as garlic, high-mineral sea veggies and other seasonal goodies. In addition, fats such coconut oil (high in lauric acid), butter from pastured cows (high in vitamin A, E, selenium and conjugated linoleic acid) and cod liver oil (high in vitamins A and D) are great immune system builders. Flax oil, fish oils and wild-caught, cold water fish such as salmon and sardines contain omega-3 essential fatty acids which reduce inflammation in the body. Also, be sure to incorporate lacto-fermented foods and/or a good probiotic which build healthy intestinal flora and support immune system health. Lacto-fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchee, miso, kefir and yogurt, to name a few.
In addition to fat, make sure you are getting enough good quality protein in your diet. This can be from sprouted or soaked legumes, pastured meats or wild-caught fish. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and support the growth, repair and maintenance of every system in the body. Without it, your body doesn’t have the building blocks it needs to support your immune system. Be sure to balance your animal and vegetarian sources of protein. Everyone is different. Some people need more animal protein sources and less vegetarian protein, while others benefit from more vegetarian protein sources. Start with a 50/50 ratio and experiment! You may find that you need more protein or a particular type of protein during certain seasons or when you engage in more activities.
Remember that poor diets can lead to leaky gut syndrome, compromised digestion, nutritional deficiencies and Candida overgrowth (yeast). The health of the gut is very important to the health of your immune system. If you experience allergies, skin conditions, gas or bloating, for example, you may need to look a closer look at your diet, stress levels and digestive system health. If you’re feeling rundown, it’s really important to cut back on sugar, refined carbs, alcohol and commercial dairy. The sugars in these products feed the opportunistic bacteria and yeast. In addition, water supports the mucosal lining of the gut where the friendly microbes live, so make sure you are hydrating well in the colder months.
Regular, appropriate exercise and sunlight (rich in immune-system boosting vitamin D) have been found to support a healthy immune system. Be careful with working out too much however, because for some it can weaken the immune system further. Some people benefit more from intense workouts, while others benefit more from more calming workout such as walking or yoga (although yoga can be quite intense as well). The important thing is to move your body regularly and listen to it.
In addition to eating well and exercising, getting plenty of sleep and relaxation will protect you from most viruses and other infections. Make sure you have time to decompress everyday. It can be staring into space, closing your eyes to meditate or visualizing something soothing or joyful. In my opinion, this is the most effective way to stay healthy, even if you consume a lot of junk. Guess what? People who eat well but don’t rest get sick. Create a self-nourishment or play menu and pick something from it each and every day. It can be as simple as giving someone a hug, smiling more, going for a long walk or enjoying a cup of tea or glass of wine with a loved one.
So instead of worrying about the flu vaccine and stocking up on hand-sanitizer, put your time and and energy into eating well, relaxing, playing and loving yourself and others a little more. As they say, laughter truly is the best medicine.
In order to make room for more blessings, we first need to count the blessings we currently have in our lives. It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season and to forget what truly matters. Consider naming then things that you are truly thankful for every morning when you wake up. Your blessings can range from the comfy sheets on your bed to your children and other significant others. It’s important to affirm the gifts the Universe has given us to remind us how lucky we are to be here so we take nothing for granted.
If you don’t get all your decorations in place, gifts perfectly wrapped or your Holiday cards signed and mailed, let it go. There will be other Holidays. How fortunate are we to have homes to decorate? Gifts to wrap? Friends and family to send cards too? Amen to that! We often have unhealthy expectations of ourselves and other people that result in undue stress. Enjoy this time of year. Only do what you’re moved to do. Don’t feel pressured to keep up with your friends and neighbors and make unrealistic goals for yourself. Let it go and lose the guilt. Your friends and family will still love you. I promise.
We often have a tendency to get caught up in doing things for others during the Holidays. Just remember that you’re only as good to others as you are to yourself. If you don’t recharge, how effective will you really be? Incorporate down time. It will go a long way to keeping you chipper and energized during the Holidays. Your family and friends will thank you. Plus, this is a great time of year to re-connect with ourselves and reflect on what our souls are calling us to do and who to be.
Get Out & Get Moving.
It’s really important for both our physical and mental health to step out into the sunshine and fresh air this time of year. If you’re limited by daylight hours and can’t take a walk at lunch, bundle up and venture out with a loved one on a starry night. Regardless of whether or not you can get out, it’s important to continue to exercise this time of year in particular because it helps with blood sugar regulation which tends to be an issue for many of us when we’re surrounded by sugar-laden treats. It’s also helpful to soak up vitamin D when you can which is essential for a healthy immune system
Although, you want to keep moving, you also don’t want to swing in the complete opposite direction and overdo it. Make sure that you take time for yourself. In addition to incorporating some daily self-nourishment techniques, be careful of how many obligations you take on this Holiday season. We have a tendency to try and make every event in addition to hosting our own events, no matter how unrealistic or unpleasant this may be. Make a conservative plan of how many events you can attend and/or host this month and stick to it! If you feel like being alone, honor that. It’s important to take time to connect with ourselves and refill that well. Although it seems counter-intuitive, we are more productive and grounded when we take some extra time each day to relax and recharge. Remember that old saying. Don’t worry. Be happy.
Join me on Sunday, October 16th at the Unity Center of Light in Bowie, MD for a gathering of tribes that transform the mind, body and spirit. I will be talking with participants about my work as a health coach and nutritional consultant. If you have been thinking about chatting with me about a personal coaching program, nutrition consultation or having me speak at an event for your organization, this is a great time to find me. This is also an opportunity for you to connect with inspirational healers from a variety of holistic modalities that address the mind, self-image, financial health, spirituality, personal relationships and more!
I can’t believe it’s August. As a kid, I remember that I would start to get sad this time of year because September was around the corner which meant that the end of my summer vacation was also near. I just wanted to continue to PLAY, PLAY, PLAY! Do you remember structuring your entire day around play? I thought about play constantly and worked as efficiently as possible on chores and homework so that I could get my keister outside for some non-stop fun. Nothing was more important…well, except maybe dinner but it was even hard to drag me inside for that. What were some of my favorite forms of play? Well I enjoyed running around and screaming like a crazy person for starters. I enjoyed games with my brother, Shawn, and our friends such as red light, green light, TV tag, kick the can, A-Team, etc. Of course we loved tromping through the woods and creek nearby, swimming in our neighbors pool, playing on the swing set, developing dance routines (sorry to put you out there like that Shawn, but you have to admit our Puttin’ on the Ritz routine was pretty fly), playing catch, training our poor dog to climb trees and jump through hoops, riding our bikes, skate boarding, playing in the dirt…the list goes on and on. It’s funny how as I’ve gotten older, my play list has gotten much shorter. Well, recently, I’ve decided that I need to expand my play list again and I hope that you’ll join me.
First, what is considered play? Sometimes we consider play exercise or working on some fun creative project. Now this can be play, of course, but let’s think back to our childhoods. Play is something that we do for pure enjoyment that integrates our mind, body and spirit and creates excitement. Professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, Sutton-Smith considers play an alternative cultural form, like art and music. He says play is anxiety—complete with uncertainty—but without the adrenaline and endocrine response. So it’s a healthy form of stimulation unlike stress. We know how detrimental stress can be both to our physical and mental health. Stress can create illness and depression. We’ve all experienced that. So what’s a great remedy? PLAY! I encourage you to think about one form of play that you can integrate into your life this week. It has to be fun and serve no other purpose than to make you smile, laugh and love life. Try it. You may notice a shift in your mental outlook or increased energy. You may notice that you enjoy your responsibilities much more when you make time for play and are much more efficient with your time. Most of all, the people in your life will enjoy your presence that much more because play is contagious.
Just remember, play holds the power of possibility.