The start of the new year is full of hopeful chatter about new health goals and routines. However, we know how hard it can be to form new habits when you are still recovering from a busy holiday season. Time is often the barrier, not a lack of desire to make good choices. Recently this was confirmed when we asked our tribe, what is the biggest wellness challenge you are facing? And the most popular answer was: finding time for self-care.
Before we dive into what self-care is and the simple ways anyone can incorporate it into their life, I want to stress what self-care is not. When people think about the term self-care they often mistake it for selfishness or self-indulgence. Wellness marketing promotes self-care in the form of fancy products or services often targeted to burned out moms, overworked individuals, and confused consumers. Businesses see our deepest pains and frustrations and use them to sell us their product as the solution. Many of these products and services have really great advertising that make us believe it could really be the answer. However, more often than not, it’s a waste of money or a band-aid covering up a deeper issue.
So, what is self-care?
I recently stumbled upon a study in BMC Palliative Care and fell in love with their definition. The article described self-care as “the self-initiated behavior that people choose to incorporate to promote good health and general well-being.” The words “self-initiated” made this stand out among any other description I’ve read. What this means is that self-care is based on what you need, and you get to decide when to practice it. Self-care looks different for everyone; for some it may be a skincare routine before bed, for others it may be a 5 minute meditation before starting the day, or eating healthy and moving their bodies regularly. All that matters is that the practice is on your terms and it’s something you do intentionally that brings you joy. When introducing self-care into your routine, remember to check in with your expectations, take some time to think about what you have the time and energy for, and know every little bit counts.
How do I make the time?
Now that we’ve covered what self-care is and is not, let’s discuss how you can make the time to incorporate it. At Well Balanced we understand there are some seasons of life where time is limited. That’s why we developed the tips below to help you sprinkle in self-care wherever and whenever possible.
Ways to add in self-care:
- Time blocking. It may feel silly at first, but setting aside time or making an appointment with yourself can help guarantee you are prioritizing your needs. Have 10 minutes between meetings? Block that time so you can spend those few moments doing something for yourself.
- Microbreaks. Taking 5-10 minutes to step away from your desk can help boost energy levels, decrease fatigue, and increase self-care. Get up and drink a glass of water, walk to the mailbox, or listen to your favorite song. Small breaks are a great way to add in self-care without having to rearrange your schedule.
- Check in with yourself. Taking a moment to ask yourself, “What do I need right now?” or “How can I support myself today?” creates the space for you to recognize and support your needs. Whatever it is, make sure you find time to incorporate it in small amounts during the day.
- Unwind after the day. Whether it’s a walk around the neighborhood, listening to a podcast on the commute home, or watching the sunset from your window, having an activity to transition into the evening is a great way to let go of the day while tending to yourself.
- Plan something to look forward to. Having something fun or relaxing planned is not only motivating, but it also allows you to set aside time to do things that bring you happiness. It can be as simple as catching up on a TV show after the kids go to bed, or it can be something more involved like a weekend getaway. Doing the things you enjoy, no matter what it looks like, is a wonderful form of self-care.
- Set and keep boundaries. Sometimes the ultimate self-care is drawing a line between what is ok and not okay. Whether that relates to how many things you are willing to put on your calendar, how much you respond to emails after hours, or how many activities your kids can be involved in. Those conversations can be difficult but worthwhile when they protect your wellbeing.
Self-care in seconds: If you are on a strict time crunch, look no further because here are some suggestions that can help you take care of yourself without having to sacrifice time.
- Deep breathing for 30-60 seconds. Take a few moments to focus only on your breath, deeply breathing in and out for as long as you need. Breathwork can help regulate blood pressure, calm the nervous system, and recenter your focus, promoting small moments of self-care.
- The 20/20/20 strategy. This tool can be a great way to add in microbreaks or moments of self-care throughout the day. Stop every 20 minutes to focus on an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds before returning to close up viewing. This will help prevent eye strain and allow you to reset in the midst of a busy day.
- Check-in with your body. Pay attention to your physical sensations, relax your shoulders, unclench your jaw, adjust your posture, and maybe stretch for a moment. Releasing the tension in your body is a simple yet effective way to care for yourself.
- The 54321 practice. Focus on 5 things you see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. This will help bring you into the present moment and tend to yourself for a few brief moments.
- Hug it out. If you have a friend, coworker, child, or loved one around then a brief embrace might be a great way to show love to yourself and another person, while receiving love in return.
Self-care does not need to be a drawn out process or costly activity. It can be done in seconds and practiced anywhere, at any time. It is accessible to everyone and essential for overall health and wellbeing. If you are interested in learning more about self-care or need more guidance on how to incorporate it into your life, we encourage you to reach out to one of our coaches. In the meantime, remember to take care of yourself the way you care for others!
As the autumn season rolls in with its warm golden glow and fresh fall air, one cannot help but get excited for vibrant colors on treetops and succulent seasonal flavors. At Well Balanced, we welcome the changing of seasons with open arms as they bring fresh, delicious seasonal foods. To celebrate this transition into the last few months of the year and pay homage to the diverse nutrients this season provides, we’re dedicating October to Mother Earth and focusing on all the ways we can keep her thriving.
Although there are numerous ways to help keep the planet safe and healthy, we are going to focus on what we love most: food. That’s right, food and the environment are closely related. There is even a fun term for people that eat foods close to home. According to the Oxford Languages online dictionary, a locavore is a person whose diet consists only or primarily of locally grown or produced food.
What are the benefits of being a locavore?
- It fosters a healthy environment. Local foods found at farmer’s markets, produce stands, or in the local food section of your grocery store do not have to travel long distances, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprints.
- It contributes to and supports the local economy. This, in turn, helps support local farmers and agriculture. This has never been more important, as the 2022 Farm Sector Income report forecasted a $20 billion increase in farm production costs and a $15.5 billion decrease in government subsidies.
- Local foods may have higher nutrient content, as local produce has a shorter time between harvest and when it is consumed. Foods that travel longer distances may lose some of their nutritional value during long periods of transportation through their aging process.
- Local foods are seasonal foods. Eating seasonally benefits the environment by promoting more sustainable agriculture and consumption patterns.
In the midst of a fast paced society, there is no shortage of distractions. From the time we wake up to the moment we fall asleep, we experience the urge to check our phones, answer an email, check in with the news headlines for the day, and all the notifications and happenings in between.
With never ending to-do lists and an abundance of interruptions, it is easy to operate on autopilot, bouncing from one task to the next. But what if the key to fulfillment, productivity, and overall happiness isn’t multitasking, but rather the act of slowing down and appreciating what is happening right in front of us?
There is nothing more profound than anchoring yourself to the present moment. This idea has made the practice of mindfulness gain popularity in recent years.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is living presently in the moment and appreciating its uniqueness, knowing we will never live that moment or experience again. When we are mindful our senses are heightened, making us more aware of the way the afternoon sun feels on our skin, the sound of a summer breeze rustling the leaves of a nearby tree, or the smell of a favorite meal as it travels through the house.
Whenever we practice mindfulness, we bring a sense of awareness to what we are doing directly through our senses. However, we can also practice mindfulness by bringing attention to our state of mind via our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. As Jon Kabat Zinn, founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, said “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” And when we do so, we may be restructuring our brains through training this sense of greater awareness.
The Basics of Developing a Mindfulness Routine
Mindfulness is a personal practice and can be utilized at any moment. It offers a buffer between external experiences and internal reactions. The best part is that mindfulness is free of cost and you can begin practicing wherever, whenever. Here is how:
- Set aside time (everyday). Choose a time and place where you feel comfortable and won’t be interrupted. Try and do this as consistently as possible, because the more you practice the stronger the mindfulness muscle will become. The good news is that you can do this multiple times a day as a comfortability is created.
- Become an observer. The purpose of being mindful is to observe what is happening in that exact moment, without trying to judge or change anything. The goal is not to achieve nirvana, but to be more aware of what is happening via your senses or thoughts/feelings depending on the scenario.
- Remember your thoughts are like clouds. An easy way to avoid distracting ourselves with our own judgments and perceptions, is to think of them as clouds in the sky. We cannot stop a cloud from passing through, but we can instead just watch without engaging with it.
- Return to the observer mindset. When the mind starts taking over and you catch yourself thinking about what’s for dinner or the project that isn’t going well, remember to return to the observer’s mind. Instead of thinking too much about anything, observe what is happening, what you can feel/see/hear/smell/taste, and what emotions arise.
- Give yourself grace. Remember to be free of judgment and criticism, especially when it comes to yourself. A wandering mind is to be expected, so instead of beating yourself up, gently guide yourself to the present and begin again.
- Practice in different ways. The more familiar you become with mindfulness, the more you can diversify when and where you practice. It is best to start small and simple, perhaps while sitting outside in a quiet place or somewhere you are alone and at ease. But as this muscle grows, try and do it in a new location or setting. The more mindful we can be in different situations and places, the more present we become in our daily lives.
More on Mindfulness
Mindfulness is not a destination, but a journey. Just like strengthening any skill, practice and consistency are important. But, there is nothing more profound than anchoring yourself to the present moment.
Although it is a simple exercise, our thoughts and judgments can sometimes make it feel complicated or difficult. Luckily, there are many experts and resources out there to help. Below is a list of Coach Bella’s favorite mindfulness tools:
- If you like the sciency side of things, check out episode #533 of the Rich Roll Podcast where he talks to neuroscientist Dr. Huberman on how to change your brain (It can also be found on Spotify, Apple, and other podcast streaming platforms).
- If you want to know more about mindfulness, check out this article which dives much deeper into its history, meaning, practices, and much more.
- If you want to learn more about unlocking your mind and healing through the power of thought, listen to episode #243 of ON Purpose with Jay Shetty to hear some wonderful insight from Dr. Joe Dispenza (It can also be found on Spotify, Apple, and other podcast streaming platforms).
- If you want to incorporate mindfulness into your eating, read one of our previous blogs on mindful eating.
- If you want to add a mindfulness meditation into your routine, try out the Headspace app or free mindfulness meditations from Mindful.org.
- If you want to learn more about mindfulness and nutrition, join us May 18 for our monthly webinar.
And as always, remember to enjoy the journey!
Harvard Health calls it a “medical mystery” and “mysterious ailment.” It’s been linked to everything from gut troubles, autoimmune diseases, and even mental health concerns.
I’m talking about “leaky gut” or “intestinal permeability”—have you heard of it?
Many doctors and the established medical community may not recognize it, but there is growing research to suggest it is associated with many health conditions.
What exactly is “leaky gut?” Do you have it? How does it happen? What can you do about it? Hold on to your seats, because this leaky gut train is about to leave the station!
What is “leaky gut?”
Your gut (gastrointestinal system) is not just a 30-foot-long muscular tube that starts at your mouth and ends with you using the restroom. It’s a vast and complex system with many functions. It breaks down food into smaller digestible bits, keeps it moving through the gastrointestinal tract, and skillfully absorbs water and nutrients while keeping out harmful substances. More and more research has revealed that these essential gut functions are interconnected throughout your body—to everything from your heart to your brain. This means that the foods and drinks you consume can directly affect your health and mood. So maybe it isn’t you after all, maybe it’s your gut.
Your gastrointestinal tract is lined with millions of cells, all side-by-side in a single layer so thin it’s less than the width of a human hair. Those intestinal cells help the body to absorb what we need from foods and drinks while acting as a gatekeeper, allowing in what your body uses and keeping out what it doesn’t, which ultimately ends up as waste. This ability to selectively allow some things in our gut to be absorbed while keeping others out is only possible if the cells are working properly and physically joined together very tightly. The bonds that keep the cells tightly together are called “tight junctions.”
Leaky gut happens when the tight junctions aren’t so tight anymore. The cellular barrier is inflamed, irritated or otherwise weakened, allowing tiny holes to appear. These tiny holes or gaps allow things that would normally stay out of the bloodstream into the bloodstream causing a number of issues. When things like food particles, waste products, and bacteria get into the bloodstream your immune system is altered and triggered, responding by attacking the foreign bodies similar to how your immune system would fight the cold virus and cause inflammation.
Do you have a leaky gut?
The symptoms of leaky gut are similar to those of other digestive conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, and Crohn’s disease. Symptoms can include diarrhea, constipation, cramps, bloating, food sensitivities, or nutrient deficiencies.
But, because the food particles, toxins, and bacteria have been absorbed into the bloodstream which travels throughout your body, symptoms can appear anywhere. Studies show that leaky gut may feel like fatigue, headaches, confusion, difficulty concentrating, joint pain, or skin problems (e.g., acne, rashes, eczema). Leaky gut is also linked with diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, liver disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and autoimmune diseases such as lupus and multiple sclerosis. There may even be links to anxiety and depression.
Many of these gut and non-gut symptoms and conditions are linked to chronic inflammation, but more research is needed to understand how they are connected.
Even if you have some of these symptoms, the fact is, it’s very difficult to diagnose a leaky gut, or how leaky it is. However, many functional and integrative doctors are using the Cyrex Array 2 testing to help determine gut permeability. This means science is heading in the direction of developing tests to diagnose leaky gut. But, in some instances it is difficult to say whether your symptoms are from leaky gut, or whether leaky gut is a symptom of another issue.
What causes leaky gut?
It’s not 100 percent clear what causes those bonds to loosen and result in tiny perforations in the gut barrier. In fact, we’re just starting to understand how the gut barrier functions and there is a lot of ongoing research.
Part of leaky gut may be due to the genes you inherit from your parents. It can also be from medications or gut infections. Leaky gut is also linked to eating a diet that is low in gut-friendly fiber (adults should aim for 25-30 g of fiber per day). It can also be from consuming too much added sugar and saturated fat. Leaky gut may even result from stress or an imbalance in the diversity and numbers of your friendly gut microbes. As you age your cells can get damaged more easily and heal slowly, including the cells that line your gut. This can leave you more susceptible to loosening of the gut barrier.
The bottom line
More and more research suggests that your gut is deeply interconnected throughout your body—from the brain, to your heart, to your immune system, and even to your mood. This means that the foods and drinks you consume can directly affect your health and mood. The gut’s ability to selectively allow the foods we consume to be absorbed while keeping others out is only possible if the cells are working properly and physically joined together very tightly, via tight junctions. When the cellular barrier lining your gut is inflamed, irritated or otherwise weakened, the tight junctions loosen, allowing tiny gaps for unwanted entities to enter your bloodstream and thus cause leaky gut. This then translates into a slew of symptoms and conditions. However, leaky gut is preventable and treatable. That’s why next week, we’ll discuss strategies for reducing gut inflammation, ways you can keep those tight junctions tight, and how to mitigate the onset of leaky gut (hint: it has a lot to do with nutrition).
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What does science say about sugar? Is it really that bad?
Sugar. It’s famous for its sweetness and shamed for its health effects. But why is that? Most of us know sugar can be “bad” without really knowing why.
Over the course of this series of blog posts, we will cover:
- how the body processes sugar and if sugar causes weight gain
- insulin and insulin resistance
- what excess sugar does to the body
- ways to optimize your blood sugar and insulin levels
- different types of carbs and natural vs. processed sugars
Let’s start with the basics.
Sugar is a type of carbohydrate. There are different sugars present in our foods. When we refer to sugar in this series, we are talking about:
- Fructose and Glucose – the sugar found in fruits, vegetables, honey, but also in food products like syrups made with a combination of fructose and glucose
- Sucrose (aka table sugar) – occurs naturally in sugar beet, sugar cane, and fruits
- Lactose – a sugar found in milk and dairy products
These sugars are made up of only one or two sugar units (compared to 10 or more units in other carbohydrates). This is why they are sometimes called simple sugars or simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are made of many sugar units and take longer to digest than simple sugars.
What happens in your body when you eat sugar?
When we eat simple sugars, our body breaks the sugar units apart fairly quickly and they can get used immediately upon digestion.
Your body will notice the influx of sugar in your blood and produce a hormone called insulin. Insulin acts as a key unlocking the door to our cells allowing the sugar in. Cells will use the sugar for energy. Once your cells have enough fuel any excess sugar will be stored in your muscles, liver, or tissues.
Do we need sugar?
Our bodies need glucose (blood sugar) for fuel, but it doesn’t have to come from simple sugars. We can turn other carbohydrates into glucose. We need about 130 grams of carbohydrates a day to support brain health and give our bodies enough glucose for fuel.
What happens in your body when you eat too much sugar?
Too much (or too little) sugar in the bloodstream will trigger reactions in the body that will help restore a healthy blood sugar level. When sugar is over-abundant in the blood and your cells no longer need it for energy, your body will allow more sugar to be used up by muscles, send some to the liver for storage, and will temporarily prevent any breakdown of previously stored energy. If there is still extra sugar in the blood after that happens, our bodies can store the sugar as fat.
Will eating sugar cause weight gain?
If we consistently eat foods or meals that cause excess sugar to circulate in our blood, we increase our fat stores. However, this does NOT mean that eating sugar guarantees you will increase your fat stores. It does mean that eating and drinking an overabundance of foods high in simple sugars (donuts, white bread, candy, sugary cereal, sodas) can lead to a flood of sugar, causing our bodies to store the glucose in muscles, liver, or as fat.
It is only when we consume too much sugar too often that we can begin to gain weight and start to experience negative effects. However, there are ways to optimize your blood sugar levels that prevent weight gain (more on this later).
Over the next few posts we will cover more effects of excess sugar in the blood, insulin and insulin resistance, tips for optimizing your blood sugar, and breakdown the different types of carbs. Stay tuned for more sweet stuff!
More posts in this series…