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General Wellness | 0 Comments
It’s December, a month where many of us celebrate spiritual and religious holidays, like Hanukkah and Christmas. It’s also the last month of the year, which lends itself to reflection as we move into the new year.
With this in mind, I felt it was appropriate to spend this month talking about spirituality: what it is and how having a spiritual practice is essential for overall health and wellness.
As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, good health is more than just eating well. In order to truly be well, we have to take our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health into consideration.
So What is Spirituality?
There are many definitions and ideas about what spirituality is, but I want to share some of my beliefs and thoughts around what it is and how it can impact your life.
My definition of spirituality is greatly influenced by Dr. Christina Puchalski. She is the director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health and has a beautiful way of describing what spirituality is. She defines it as…
“The aspect of humanity that refers to the way humans seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the self, others, nature, and to something significant or sacred.”
I believe spirituality is also a sense of connection with a higher self, a higher purpose, The Divine, or God. It is a connection to something bigger than ourselves that is not seen but can be felt. This connection helps us to uncover deeper meaning and purpose in our lives, something we all need and long for.
This need and longing is one of the reasons religion was created. It’s one way we can connect to something greater than ourselves. However, you don’t need to be religious to be a spiritual person or to have a spiritual practice.
While many religions are rooted in spiritual ideas and a belief in something bigger than ourselves as a governing force in our lives, being a spiritual person is simply connecting deeply with yourself. This connection will influence how you connect with others, your connection with nature, and your connection with God or The Divine.
Spirituality can have a really important role in our lives, creating space for self-reflection and deep connection. This self-reflection and connection can occur through more well-known and conventional ways, like prayer or going to a temple, but it can also occur through less obvious means, like meditation, taking a walk in nature, sitting around a campfire, or moving through yoga asanas.
We all have the ability to connect to a deeper meaning and purpose and have an experience that transcends the physical body, creating a sense of deep connection with a higher source.
Studies have shown that individuals with a spiritual practice who are connected to a higher sense of purpose through meditation and prayer, experience several positive health outcomes, including better quality of life than those without a spiritual or religious connection. I also find that many of my patients that have a spiritual practice are more positive when dealing with challenging health concerns. They have a greater sense of peace, gratitude, and acceptance, all of which can have a direct and positive impact on their overall health and well-being.
Good health is not just physical, and spirituality is a key part of our health and well-being. I’m really excited to dig into this topic with you this month. Also, having been a very spiritual person my whole life, this topic is very important to me, so I’ll be sharing my own spiritual practice with you in the next blog to help get you started if this concept is new to you.
To close, I want to share one of my favorite quotes with you because I believe it highlights many of the points I am sharing with you in this post and those I plan to share in posts to come – having a spiritual practice helps you to develop a greater sense of trust, belief, courage, and faith, so you are better able to face the daily challenges of life, including those involving your physical health.
“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.” – Thomas Merton
Many of us, myself included, have friends and family that come to visit from other states, towns, and countries during the holidays. This Thanksgiving my siblings are coming to visit and I’m planning to have 20-25 people gather in my home to cook together, share a meal, and connect in gratitude over delicious food and conversation.
Below are some of the healthy Thanksgiving recipes that we are planning to make. I encourage you to do the same.
You can use these recipes to make a special meal for your family at home. Or, you can take these dishes to holiday parties and gatherings as a way to share your healthy and delicious lifestyle with close friends and relatives.
As you know from previous blog posts, my diet is gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, mostly organic, and free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Similarly, the healthy Thanksgiving recipes that I’m sharing also fit those criteria.
This is one of my favorite healthy Thanksgiving stuffing recipes! It’s made with almond flour, instead of bread, making it lower in carbs than more traditional stuffing recipes. If you prefer a vegetable-based stuffing option, this recipe is also delicious.
If you typically have rice as part of your Thanksgiving spread, trade it out for one of my favorite rice alternatives – cauliflower! Not only is this recipe quick to prepare, but it’s also lower in carbohydrates than rice, making it a great addition to your healthy Thanksgiving meal.
Instead of a heavy salad with a dairy-based dressing, I make a light brussel sprout salad with a simple, yet delicious, lemon vinaigrette. This recipe contains goat cheese, which pairs nicely with brussel sprouts but feel free to omit it if goat cheese doesn’t work for your dietary needs.
This Thanksgiving staple usually contains a rich, dairy-based cream of mushroom soup. This healthy Thanksgiving recipe for green bean casserole from Detoxinista doesn’t contain dairy, but it ’s just as rich and creamy thanks to a parsnip and mushroom puree.
This gravy is simple to make and delicious. It’s sure to be a hit with your family and friends, even if they eat differently than you do.
It’s not Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie, in my opinion, so I had to include a healthier alternative to traditional pumpkin pie on my list of healthy Thanksgiving recipes. This pumpkin pie has a delicious pecan crust and is made with almond milk, instead of cow’s milk, making it gluten-free and dairy-free.
Keep your Thanksgiving dessert as healthy as can be with my favorite dairy-free whipped cream. It’s made with coconut milk and sweetened with just a touch of honey.
No doubt after preparing all of these healthy Thanksgiving recipes, you’ll have leftovers. Be sure to save them and make this delicious turkey soup. It’s perfect for post-Thanksgiving lunches or you can freeze it to enjoy during colder months.
I hope these healthy Thanksgiving recipes make it to your holiday table and are enjoyed by your family and friends, whether they are typically healthy eaters or not.
One final tip for anyone hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year – you don’t have to do everything on your own. Invite your family and friends to help you cook and clean. You can connect with just as much meaning away from the table, and keep stress levels low, by sharing the load.
P.S. This is the last blog post in a series of four on being and eating healthy during the holidays. If you missed the first three blog posts in the series on – immune boosting tips, the importance of gratitude, and how to maintain your healthy diet during the holidays – be sure to check them out!
General Wellness | 0 Comments
Thanksgiving is approaching and Christmas is right around the corner, so I want to provide you with a few tips to help you nourish yourself and eat healthy during the holidays.
The holidays are a time for connecting with friends and family. A big part of this connection is through food and eating, so it’s no wonder that many of my patients find it challenging during the holidays to maintain the dietary recommendations that I make during their visits.
Since food is such a big part of holiday celebrations, I want to start by letting you know that it’s ok to eat and it’s also ok to enjoy what you’re eating. That said, my first piece of advice is:
1. Let go of any fear that you have around food and eating
This can be challenging, but as much as you can, try not to focus on the things that you can’t have. The holidays are a time of celebration and joy, so give yourself permission to indulge – have dessert, eat foods that you normally don’t eat, without fear or shame.
Excessive restriction increases the fear and stress that we can sometimes feel around food and eating, which can make it difficult to really connect with your friends and family over the holidays. Allow yourself to indulge, mindfully.
2. Be Present and Aware of What You’re Putting In Your Body
As you are celebrating, maintain a conscious awareness of what you’re eating and drinking.
Notice the way your food looks, tastes, and smells. Slow down and take time to chew your food, really savor and enjoy it.
It’s also helpful to create an awareness around what you’re drinking. It’s ok to enjoy an alcoholic beverage, but also make sure that you stay hydrated by drinking water while you’re celebrating.
No matter what you decide to eat and drink, be aware of and take responsibility for your choices. Don’t wait until you get to the bottom of the bag of chips before noticing that you may have eaten more than you wanted to. Stay aware throughout the eating experience.
3. Make and Bring Healthy Foods to Parties and Gatherings
If you’ve ever arrived at a party, examined the food options, and felt like there was nothing there you could eat, this tip is for you!
You can decrease some of the stress that arises when you’re trying to eat healthy during the holidays, by bringing a healthy dish that meets your dietary needs. Not only will you ensure that you have something healthy that you can eat, but you might even convince your family and friends that healthy and delicious can co-exist during the holidays!
Personally, gluten and dairy don’t work well for my body, so I always make a few dishes to take along with me to holiday parties and celebrations. When I first started this practice, I was considered an oddball, but now, many of my family and friends are eating the same way that I eat, so we can all enjoy healthy, gluten-free, dairy-free, delicious foods together.
4. Eat at Regular Intervals Throughout the Day
It’s easy to get swept up in the hectic nature of holiday preparation and forget to eat or feel like there isn’t enough time to stop what we’re doing to eat.
We can get so busy grocery shopping, buying gifts, and traveling that by the time we sit down to eat, we’re depleted and ravenous.
Eating when we’re in this state makes it much harder to make healthy food choices since we’re depleted calorically, it’s not unusual in these instances to choose foods that are convenient or quick and easy to prepare. Unfortunately, these aren’t always the best for our bodies.
If you are going to be out traveling or running errands, put a few healthy snacks in your bag or pack a healthy lunch, so you have access to nourishing, healthy food when you need it. This will make it much easier to eat healthy during the holidays.
5. Consume Alcohol Only After You’ve Had a Meal, Not Before
Alcohol can be taxing on the liver, which can eventually lead to insomnia and skin issues, like acne. With this in mind, it’s important to limit the amount of alcohol that you consume during the holidays.
Also, healthy foods will provide you with much more nourishment than alcohol, so give it more of a priority than eggnog and other alcoholic beverages.
6. Eat Your Food on a Small Plate
During the holidays, we tend to overeat. You may be able to avoid this by eating from an appetizer plate, instead of a bigger entree plate. A smaller plate holds less food, making you less likely to take more food than you need to feel satisfied, especially if you are eating slowly, chewing your food well, and savoring each bite.
No matter what plate size you choose, however, try to fill most of your plate with healthy foods, like green leafy vegetables, as much as possible.
7. Move Your Body
Just as it can be challenging to eat healthy during the holidays, it can also be a challenge to maintain our movement and exercise routines. However, movement is essential, especially if we are eating foods that are higher in calories, fat, and sugar.
If you’re struggling to find time for movement during the holidays, make it a family affair! Invite your family members to take a 20-minute walk with you after a meal.
Remember, the holidays are about connection and we can connect with and without food.
To ensure that you eat healthy during the holidays, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite healthy holiday recipes in the next blog post of this series. If you’ve missed any of my previous blog posts on maintaining your health during the holidays, you can check them out here.
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I believe gratitude is one of the most important emotions that we can experience. And it can have a very powerful and positive impact on your health.
It also happens to be an emotion that is better felt than merely spoken about, so I want to start this blog post a little differently than the others – with a short meditation. Feel free to read the instructions first, then put them into practice.
- Find a quiet space where you feel safe, then close your eyes.
- Take a moment to think about the word “gratitude.” What do you feel in your body when you think of this word? Notice any sensations or feelings that come up.
- Then ask yourself, “what am I grateful for?” Allow images and words to come up freely, without judgment.
- Notice how you feel in your body as you think of these things – what does it feel like when you imagine the situations, the people, or the places you’re grateful for?
- After you’ve felt and observed the feelings and sensations, take a moment to write down the things that came to you.
What are you grateful for?
Personally, when I ask myself this question, the first person that comes to mind is my husband. As I sit with the image of my husband, I can feel warmth and love. I am extremely grateful for him.
The more you do this gratitude meditation, the easier it becomes to settle into the feeling. It also becomes easier with time to note all the things that you’re grateful for.
Many of us know what gratitude is on a cognitive level, and we know that we “should” be grateful, but not many of us know what gratitude actually feels like. So take the time to notice and feel that for yourself on a daily basis.
If you’re having trouble coming up with things to be grateful for, start small. You can be grateful for your eyes and the ability to see or the ability to taste your food when you eat. You can even be grateful for the challenges you are facing or have faced in life.
The things you’re grateful for can be deceptively simple, but the feeling of gratitude no matter how small can positively affect your health and physiology.
Studies have shown that regularly practicing and experiencing gratitude can lower your blood pressure, improve immune function and sleep. It can also help to bring your hormone levels into balance and reduce internal inflammation.
In fact, a study conducted by the San Diego School of medicine found that individuals who had a regular gratitude practice had better heart health – lower heart rhythms and less inflammation – than those without a gratitude practice.
Gratitude also helps us to maintain a positive attitude and outlook. When we are moving through life without gratitude, we tend to focus on what’s going wrong or what is missing. Just as being positive and allowing ourselves to experience gratitude can positively affect our health, a lack of gratitude can negatively affect our health, increasing inflammation and contributing to disease.
Gratitude is especially important when you have a chronic illness.
I know this practice can seem “easier said than done”, especially for my patients with Lyme Disease, Fibromyalgia, and other chronic illnesses that can cause great pain and suffering. It’s important, however, even in these cases to spend 5-10 minutes each day thinking about the things that you are grateful for and feeling grateful.
I include this practice as part of the treatment plan for chronic disease because good health is not just about taking care of your physical body by eating the right foods and taking supplements. There is also a spiritual component, and this affects your health just as much as the more tangible interventions like diet and exercise.
If you are living with a chronic illness, I want you to start your gratitude practice by reassuring yourself that you are safe. Say out loud to yourself, “I am safe to feel.”
Acknowledge the parts of your body that are in pain and allow yourself to be grateful for the feeling. This can be challenging, but practice holding the body parts that are feeling pain and discomfort in your mind’s eye with care and compassion.
Imagine that the headache or the stomach pain that you are feeling is a small child and offer it comfort, imagining you are rocking that part of your body like a baby. As you are comforting that part of your body, say “thank you.”
Yes, I want you to actually thank your body for feeling weak or feeling pain. It sounds contradictory, I know, but the more you try to run away from the pain, the more intense it can become and the harder it can be to heal.
When we shift from a place of fear to one of gratitude, we change our physiology and create the space and ability to heal.
Pain is an indication that something has gone awry in your body, so if nothing else, we can be grateful to our bodies for providing us with this information.
If you start to judge yourself for being in pain and doubting your body’s ability to heal, I encourage you to find a picture of yourself as a child. Imagine saying all those negative and judgemental things to the child in the picture.
It’s much more difficult to speak harsh words of judgment when looking at a photo of your younger self. Instead, you’ll want to meet the innocence of your younger self with kindness and compassion. This is the same way you want to treat yourself as an adult, with self-compassion and kindness.
Remember, gratitude encourages healing on a physical level as well an emotional one. I encourage you to incorporate this practice into your daily routine. Sit with yourself and feel gratitude for everything in your life – both the positive and the challenging aspects.
As you know, November is the month of gratitude. For many of us, this involves ending the month by sharing a meal with family and friends on Thanksgiving. In the next blog in this four-part series on gratitude and health, I’ll be offering a few tips to help you nourish your physical body by eating healthily during the holiday season.
In the meantime, give this gratitude practice a try. I promise you will feel better and your body will begin to heal from even the most difficult of illnesses.
Summer months have faded. The weather is cooler, and runny noses, congestion, and itchy eyes become more common occurrences for allergy sufferers.
It’s officially Fall!
Not only does the change in seasons bring a change of weather, it also brings a change in the environmental allergens we’re exposed to – there are new pollens present in the air to challenge our immune systems.
This coupled with the cooler weather can make us more susceptible to viruses and infection. Taking all of this into consideration, I want to make sure you are prepared for Fall and Winter by sharing a few key immune-boosting practices that you can add to your wellness routine to help keep you well as the seasons change:
The cold weather can make it harder for our bodies to clear out the pollen that sometimes accumulates in our sinus cavity. To counteract this, I recommend rinsing the sinus cavity three times each week. You can use a Neti Pot for this or Neilmed Sinus Rinse.
I also recommend keeping your mouth clean. Beyond simply brushing and flossing your teeth, it’s important to gargle with distilled salt water and clean your tongue with a tongue scraper. These areas attract pollen, so you can boost your immune system and support your health by keeping this environment clean.
It’s cold outside, so we want our bodies to be warm. The best ways to do this are raising the temperature in your home, wearing warm clothing and scarves that protect your neck and throat, and eating warm foods. These immune-boosting practices will warm you up from the inside out by warming your chi or life force. Hot baths and time in the sauna can also be beneficial.
November and December are colder months, so many of us stay inside more. You can use this increased time indoors for calm and quiet self-reflection. This is a great time to incorporate meditation into your wellness routine. Not only is this nourishing for the mind and spirit, but it also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system – the part of our nervous system responsible for rest and digestion. This can help improve sleep, decrease stress, and reduce internal inflammation. These are all essential for boosting immunity.
NOURISH YOUR BODY
To boost your immune system and keep yourself healthy and well this Fall and Winter, incorporate these immune-boosting foods into your diet:
- Ginger contains phytonutrients that help fight viruses that can cause respiratory illness. It can also help break down mucus to help clear your respiratory tract and alleviate symptoms of congestion.
- Turmeric contains curcumin, a substance with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It also makes a delicious, warming tea. Be sure to consume it with a pinch of black pepper for optimal absorption (1).
- Soups are perfect for warming you up on cold days. They can also be incredibly nourishing and delicious. Here is a recipe for one of my favorites.
- Garlic and other vegetables in the allium family, like leeks, onions, and shallots, contain organosulfur compounds that can reduce your risk of contracting a cold or flu. Studies have also shown that it reduces the severity of symptoms and the duration of illness if you do happen to get sick (2).
- Seasonal citrus, like oranges and mandarins, are high in vitamin c, which is essential for immune system health.
You’ll also want to be mindful of your sugar intake as it can weaken your immune system if eaten in excess.
In addition to incorporating immune-boosting foods into your diet, there are a few supplements that I often recommend patients take to maintain the health of their immune system: Aller-ease for allergy relief, Acute Immune, and Immuno Pro to support the body’s defenses against seasonal immune challenges, and Vitamin D to optimize immunity (3).
November is the beginning of cold and flu season, but more importantly, it is also the month of gratitude.
I’ll be talking more about this in the coming weeks, but you can prepare for what’s to come by setting aside 5 minutes each day to acknowledge three or four things that you are grateful for. This is a practice that can actually change your physiology over time, so I encourage you to add this to your wellness routine this month along with the other immune boosting tools mentioned in this post.
These will all help you to maintain the health of your immune system and stay well during the Fall and Winter months.
Stress + Mood | 0 Comments
When we talk about mental illness in the medical community, the conversation tends to be about neurotransmitter production, diet, exercise, and medication. And while I’ve touched on a few of these topics in this series on mental health, I believe there is one important aspect of mental health that often gets left out of the conversation: spirituality.
So in this fourth, and final blog of this series, I want to offer a few ways that you can nourish your spirit. This is an essential part of maintaining your mental health, whether you’re living with a mental illness or not.
Before we get started, however, I want to remind you that the information shared here is not meant to replace a relationship with a therapist or other healthcare provider. If you are in need of more personalized support, you can find a licensed mental health practitioner here, and 24/7 assistance is also available here should you need more immediate support.
How to nourish your spirit for a healthy mind
This topic may be new to some of you and is easily misunderstood, so I want to take second to define it.
Spirituality, as I’m using it here, refers to your inner world or energetic life force and connection to a higher meaning or purpose. It’s not particularly religious, although it can be. My personal spiritual experiences are rooted in growing up Catholic but expand beyond religion. Know that spirituality and connection to your spirit can be non-denominational.
It’s important to maintain a connection to and nourish your spirit whether you are living with a mental illness or not. However, it becomes even more important when you are living with anxiety and depression since these mental illnesses can cause us to feel disconnected from ourselves and make it challenging to find meaning and purpose in life.
Without a deeper meaning or connection to something greater than ourselves, depressive episodes and anxiety can become much more challenging to manage.
You can connect to your inner spirit by doing the following as part of your wellness routine:
Create a sacred space
Whether you are new to the idea of spirituality or not, having a space that is conducive to connection and self-reflection is essential for your mental and emotional nourishment and well-being.
To start, choose a quiet space that feels safe and comfortable for you. In this space you’ll want to have a place to sit, like a cozy chair or a floor cushion. It may also help to have a small table where you can place objects or pictures that are special to you.
In my sacred space, I have pictures of my relatives, a set of angel cards, my favorite essential oils, as well as palo santo, sage, and a salt lamp.
Make time to reflect
Another way to nourish your spirit and maintain mental wellness is by making time to reflect. Get curious about your feelings and your wellbeing. I find journaling helps with this process.
Without judgment, as yourself questions like:
- How am I feeling?
- What people, places, and activities do I enjoy?
- What can I do to invite more joy into my life?
- What steps can I take to move in the direction of the life I envision?
Write down your answers and take small, actionable steps toward creating change. Remember, to be kind and compassionate with yourself in this process. Creating change can be challenging with a mental illness, so start small and seek out support when you need it.
Often, with anxiety and depression, our thoughts can become consumed by events of the past or projections into the future. In times when you find yourself becoming consumed by your thoughts, nourish your spirit by taking time to ground yourself in the present moment.
Put your feet on the floor and allow yourself to notice one thing in your environment that you can see – say what you see out loud. Do the same with your other senses.
Notice one thing that you can hear, smell, and touch. Say each thing out loud. For example, “I see a white wall…”
When you’re feeling more settled, it may also be helpful to incorporate a simple breathing exercise:
- Relax your shoulders as much as possible, then inhale slowly and deeply through your nose.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth. As you exhale, purse your lips slightly, keeping your jaw relaxed. You may hear a soft “whooshing” sound as you exhale.
- Repeat this breathing exercise 3-5 times, then breathe normally.
This breathing exercise can be done standing up, sitting down, or lying down. However, if you find this exercise to be challenging or believe it is making you more anxious or panicky, stop and revisit it at another time.
Meditate or Pray
Growing up in Ecuador I was raised Catholic. When I was a little girl, I found the church to be a very spiritually nourishing space, so much so that I would spend my lunch breaks at school in the chapel meditating, praying, and connecting with what I believe to be a higher power.
I discovered my connection to God or this higher Source, in the chapel, but you don’t have to go to a church to make this connection. Some people feel connected to something greater than themselves when meditating.
Whether you pray meditate, go out in nature, or something else, make time for a spiritual practice and prioritize your spiritual nourishment by making time to connect to whomever or whatever you identify as your life source or higher power.
This is a connection that you can utilize for support and strength when you are in need of balance.
Personally, I spend a lot of time in spiritual practice because even though I am a doctor and this topic isn’t discussed often in the medical field, I find that it plays a significant role in helping me to maintain both my mental and physical health.
I encourage you to explore this aspect of nourishment – it can be an incredible source of healing and support when you are managing anxiety and depression.
Remember, health and wellness are not limited to your spiritual body, it includes our emotional well-being and spirit as well. Try to keep them all in mind as you’re creating and implementing new health habits and routines.
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