Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Weed Out Garden Mistakes

If you are anything like me, you love the idea of having a large and bountiful vegetable garden.  You imagine how beautiful it will look in full bloom, the great smell of fresh herbs in the summer sun, and best of all you anticipate the glorious fruits of your labor at harvest time. 

I have attempted to create this garden utopia year after year, and have found that perhaps my green thumb is really more of a brown twig.  In other words, I stink at gardening!  Yes, I have finally admitted it.  I can't seem to keep up with a large garden.  Every year I plant more and more with bigger and better visions of permaculture.  And each year I am disappointed again and again as the weeds rise higher than the plants and the deer eat what little harvest I do have. 

This year I have resigned myself to container gardening and perhaps a small flower and herb garden alongside my walkway.  Of course I will also have my greens garden with a variety of spinach, romaine, kale and radishes, which are the only things I seem to be able to grow reliably. 

For those of you who are new to gardening, or like me just can't seem to get it right, I have posted a link from Real Simple Reader's Top 10 Gardening Mistakes, Solved.  Trust me, I have done them all!  Well, except for the one about using too much pesticides, because obviously I don't use any pesticides.  Yuk!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Get Real Exercise

Let's get real about exercise. If you don't like it, you're not going to do it. Not regularly and not to your best ability. Even if you have a favorite type of exercise that you do regularly, say swimming or jogging, its bound to get boring doing the same thing all the time. The best kind of exercise is the kind that makes us feel like we are not exercising; in other words, things that are fun!

Don't confine yourself to a view of a workout as going to the gym and lifting or stepping until you feel like you are going to fall over. We can tone, strengthen and increase flexibility doing many of the things we already enjoy doing. Maybe you love ballroom dancing, or maybe just dancing with your broom while you sweep the kitchen floor. Maybe you enjoy playing sports or playing tag with your kids. Not to mention having sex! Who doesn't enjoy that?!

The point is that our bodies are meant to get physical activity each and every day through a variety of means, including both those that are necessary and those that we do simply because we enjoy them.

Looking at our ancestors way of life can help us realize why hitting the treadmill for 20 minutes can seem so dismal. Throughout our evolution, humans have never had to try to keep their bodies in shape. Obesity was a fairly rare occurrence and no one lifted weights to obtain attractively defined muscles. There was just no need. Early humans had to struggle everyday just to feed themselves and stay out of danger; then as the human race evolved into a “civilization” they continued to participate in daily household duties, sports, battle, and other physical recreations.

It is only the most modern man who sits on the couch or at a desk all day staring at a screen while overeating packaged and processed pseudo-food loaded with sugar. It's no wonder we all struggle with our weight considering how little daily activity we are actually getting. It is also no wonder that our nation is plagued with disorders like depression and anxiety which are definitely relieved and prevented with regular physical activity.

So forget exercise routines and workout plans, well, unless of course you really enjoy them. Instead try to find a physical activity every day that you can look forward to doing and that will keep you moving for at least one hour. Interval training is the latest news in fitness science, so it is not important that you are working at the same intensity for the entire time, or even that you are engaging in the activity for one full hour at a time. You might do your broom dance for fifteen minutes, then haul the laundry up and down the stairs, do squats and bends while you fold it, then start walking again while you put it away and make the beds. Another day you could take your dog for a walk or go power walking at the mall, giving yourself a short break of course to browse your favorite store. It's easy to see how when you are doing something you enjoy, an hour can pass without seeming like eternity.

One of the best ways to get some variety in your activity routine is to take a class or join a group doing sports or dancing, Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gung or cycling. Many people also enjoy dance workout routines like Zumba or doing kickboxing. The idea is to create a variety of activities that you enjoy so you can do something a little different each week. Any personal trainer will tell you that you don't want to do the exact same workout every time because your body will become used to that routine and no more progress will be made.

When you do a variety of physical activities on a daily basis, you will notice that your body is becoming stronger and you are gaining stamina to do the things you love. You will look and feel great and won't have to fight yourself every morning to go to the gym.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Better Health With Water

I run into people quite often at work or around town who become interested in my career as a Wellness Coach.  They ask me how to lose those last ten pounds, or what to do for various symptoms and ailments.  I love to help people and have no issues with giving advice to anyone and everyone.  The problem is, without a thorough evaluation of a person's nutritional type, metabolism, health history and current lifestyle (all of which are included in my Free Wellness Consultation), it is very difficult to pinpoint exactly what must be done for that person to achieve their wellness goals.  We are all so uniquely different that what works for one person may not work at all for another.  But of course we all want to know the simple answer, the fortune cookie revelation.  Luckily, there is one!

Invariably in those situations when someone would like some quick advice for looking and feeling their best, I smile and answer, "Drink more water!"

Most people smile and nod, and some even laugh out loud.  Too easy, they must be thinking.  There must be some complex and expensive combination of herbs or vitamins that will decrease my heartburn symptoms or help me lose weight.  It cannot be as simple as drinking more water.  And so I am sure that most of the people I give this advice to shelve it away as not important.  But in reality, there is no single thing anyone anywhere could possibly do that is more important for their health.

We all know that our bodies are mostly made of water, and of course that we require water to live.  We also know that we should be drinking at least 64oz per day, and that we want to avoid contaminants in our drinking water.  But how many of us are actually drinking that much?  Most people don't bother to drink water unless they are really thirsty, and often reach for coffee, soda or juice instead of plain water.

Unfortunately, by the time you feel thirsty, your body is already dehydrated.  Your body has a very simple system for dealing with a lack of water.  It begins shutting down the functions and organs which are less vital than your heart or lungs.  Dehydration will cause your body to stop sending fluids to your digestive tract first, basically shutting it down, then moves on to organs like your liver, kidneys and finally your brain which requires more water than any other organ or system.  If you have ever gotten a headache or felt lightheaded from dehydration, you were very severely dehydrated and your body systems were suffering far more than you know.

So why don't I feel thirsty first, before I get dehydrated, you ask.  The answer is evolution.  As creatures evolved to live out of the water, we slowly developed longer and longer periods that we could go without drinking, which reduced the sense of thirst and our ability to recognize dehydration.  In a sense, we de-evolved our thirst mechanism as we evolved our species.

There is a long list of ailments and disease that are aggravated and caused by dehydration.  Here are a few of the most well documented:

Blood Pressure
Constipation / Colitis
Headaches / Migraines
Rheumatoid Arthritis
Lower back pain
Autoimmune disorders
Depression / Anxiety

Water repairs DNA damage and prevents the body from producing abnormal DNA.  Proper hydration increases immunity by supporting bone marrow health, which is the root of our immune system.  Drinking plenty of water each day even helps increase your body's defenses against cancer!

There is no doubt that staying properly hydrated is crucial for your overall health and well being, and in many cases can reduce symptoms and even cure disease.  Here are some simple tips for helping you to increase your daily water intake:
  • Take a water bottle with you EVERYWHERE!  Stainless steel reusable bottles are the best.  Avoid overpaying for "pure" bottled water which is probably just filtered tap water and comes in a plastic bottle that leaches toxic chemicals into the water, making it even less pure.
  • To determine your ideal water intake each day, take your body weight in pounds and divide it in half.  This is the number of ounces of water you should drink per day. 
  • For each cup of coffee or drink containing caffeine or alcohol or for each hour spent on an airplane, drink an additional glass of water.
  • To flavor your water, try adding a slice of lemon or cucumber, or drink a warm herbal tea.  You can also infuse water with fruit flavor by adding very ripe berries or other fruit and refrigerating.
  • Drink two glasses of water first thing in the morning and drink water before exercising and eating, and especially an hour or two after a meal to help aid the digestive process.
Just this one simple step towards better health can make all the difference!  So have a drink!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mood Food

I've always been in love with food. There is very little that I haven't tried and even less that I don't care for. As a child, I was fairly typical. I loved soda, candy, chocolate, baked goods, sugary cereals, breads, crackers, and even some healthful foods like cheese, fruits, and an occasional vegetable. I have never been much of a carnivore, with the exception of a good cheeseburger and of course a home made pot roast that melts in your mouth.

So of course with such a lovely array of food consumed in mass quantities, I was a chunk as a child. I started to grow taller than wider around my early teenage years, thank goodness, but I was still incredibly unhealthy and suffering for it. I developed severe clinical depression when I was 15 and stopped going to school. I was moody, irrational and violent at times. I did not care about anything. I was able to pick myself up somewhat by moving to an art school in the city, but even that did not last long, and soon I was skipping school again.  Instead of hanging out with friends like most my age who played hooky, I was staying in bed all day and gorging myself on cereal, ramen noodles, and whatever else I could find, easily prepare and shovel into my mouth.

I struggled with my depression for years. I tried most of the popular antidepressants with no improvement and several awful side affects.  I tried talk therapy several times, and even admitted my self to a hospital once for a weekend.  None of the usual treatments seemed to be working for my depression.

It was not until I was about 22 that I discovered natural living. I believe I was turned on to it by picking up a book that I came across at the public library where I was working. I cannot remember the title, but it created a tidal wave of discovery for me. I devoured all the knowledge and information I could about living in tune with nature and eating for health and wellness.

Of course I immediately took my new enthusiasm to the extreme. I became a strict vegetarian, eating mostly raw foods and I completely swore off anything “unnatural” including deodorant and even toothpaste. The results were disastrous. The lack of protein and fats in my diet caused me to plummet into even deeper depression and my self esteem continued to fall because rather than losing weight on my “perfect diet” I was actually gaining more weight and looked worse than I had in years. To top it all off, I began to have problems with my teeth and digestive tract, not to mention debilitating migraine headaches, which I had never had before in my life.

I continued to read and research healthy living and realized that I needed essential fatty acids. I love fish, so I began to eat it regularly and started to feel a little better. Then I decided to try something radical. I began to eat whole fat dairy products. I was raised on low or non fat diary, then decided dairy was evil when I began my natural living campaign. However, something remarkable happened when I ate some whole fat plain yogurt, cheese, and only used whole milk and real butter. I actually began losing weight. Dropping pounds like crazy actually. I was amused by the irony, but continued to buy only high quality whole fat products. I also gave up traditional yeast breads and only ate sprouted grain products. My digestive troubles disappeared and I began to feel good about my body, but I was still not emotionally strong and healthy.

The summer after my mother passed away I decided to volunteer on an organic farm CSA in Happy Camp, California. We ate the fruit of our labors, along with some high quality local dairy. We were peaceful, spiritual, and happy. Or at least everyone else was. Despite the fact that I was living more healthfully than ever before and I was surrounded by the most gorgeous and peaceful nature setting, I was miserable. I was not nutritionally fulfilled and my emotional stability was suffering still. When I returned home in fall I began to gradually increase my protein in the form of meat and more beans and nuts. Suddenly, I felt great! It was like night and day! Adding a little fat was not enough for my body. I also needed far more protein and saturated fat than I had previously been allowing myself. I lost even more weight, and my self esteem continued to improve.

That was about 4 years ago. Now I am a proud and grateful size 6 and I have not had an episode of major depression since. I have ups and downs of course, as we all do, but now in my lower spirits I know to look at my diet. Am I getting enough protein and fat? Am I drinking enough water and avoiding caffeine? Am I over stressed and need to take some “me time?”

I literally have come full circle with my nutritional beliefs. As a young person, all I cared about was how something tasted. If it was good, I ate it. Then as I began to receive new information I became obsessed with eating only natural and “healthy” food, but found there was still a lot of gray area and misinformation out there. It was only when I stopped believing everything that I read and started listening to my body and spirit that I discovered the diet that was right for me.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Relaxation 101

Here's a simple relaxation technique:

Deep breathing is a simple stress reliever. Find a quiet moment to yourself (or make one) and sit comfortably or lie flat on your back. Close your eyes. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. Each complete breath (inhale and exhale) should last at least 5 seconds. Feel the air expanding your chest and diaphragm. And feel how your body reacts. Your muscles will start to relax automatically, and the tension will melt away. Try to quiet your mind as much as possible, but don't beat yourself up if you can't. Consciously relax each muscle in your body, starting with your feet and legs, then your abdomen and back, then chest, arms and neck, and finally release all the tension that is stored in the muscles in your face. Do this slowly and thoroughly, which usually takes at least 10-20 minutes.