Interview with Nutritional Therapy Practitioner Sam Johnson about her personal experience dealing with digestive issues, self care and her health non-negotiables.
Meditation, oil-pulling, yoga, walking, time in the sun, essential oils, reading, foam rolling, green juices, dry brushing, 10,000 steps, long baths, candles, crystals, self-improvement, all of it.
The overwhelm of trying to do all the things that are good for us could be our undoing. Sometimes the stress and anxiety caused by trying to get it all perfectly right can be more detrimental than not even trying to do those things in the first place.
Nothing can bring you peace but yourself - Ralph Waldo Emerson
We hear about all the things we “should” be doing. Doing for us, for our health, for our family. But who has all that time? It’s a full-time job to get all of those things done. It’s no surprise that research has been published showing that we associate business with success. Many of us tend towards the perfectionist side and when we lapse on all of the things we want to get done, we tend to feel guilty and beat ourselves up.
Social media does not help here, it looks like everyone is getting it all done except for me!
I love this idea of listing out your weekly self-care non-negotiables here (be realistic!) and ticking them off as you do them. Next week start again. The Minimalists get it right in this blog post. I love their work and this is a great simple explanation on how to make sure you are devoting time to yourself each week.
But the key as always is balance let’s not be so hard on ourselves if we didn't get it done. Relax with the step counting, biohacking, measuring our self-improvement from time to time.
Every day do something that brings you one step close to your goals.
Personally what I’ve experienced to be the biggest roadblock for lasting lifestyle changes seems to be habits. We form them without realising it and now they control what drink we choose at the cafe, what groceries we put into our basket without even thinking, what restaurants we default to for a dinner out and even what we order.
Lasting Healthy Habits
Habits are when our behaviours become automatic. Our brains are constantly looking for shortcuts, and these automatic behaviours are a big way of cutting corners on having to think too much. This is how bad habits also form, our mind reverts to the easier default response no matter how bad it is for us. Breaking bad habits can be more successful if it is changed or replaced with something else.
One habit I was happy to make was flossing my teeth every night. It seems trivial but when I was younger I rarely flossed. While growing up, the health of my teeth was not the best. I made a personal decision to improve this. Driven by how expensive the dentist can be, how irreversible tooth damage is and how a bad set of teeth can actually impact on the overall health of the rest of my body. Now years later I rarely think about flossing each night, it gets done just the same as brushing.
Replace bad habits with new behaviours
Creating good new healthy habits can take a little effort but once it's set it won't require much thought. I made a habit out of drinking a powdered greens drink every morning before having coffee, breakfast or anything else and I stuck with it for years. I formed a habit of drinking black coffee and liking it. I formed habits of default go-to meals being salads or big one pan meat and vegetable dinners.
I figured the best way to form a new habit was to acknowledge exactly what I wanted my new behaviour to be. Then to do it every day or the specific days until it becomes the default. Trying to change more than one behaviour is hard for me, too many balls in the air. Another thing that helps is associating a particular behaviour with something else. Like waking up and taking a supplement every morning. Or flossing every night after brushing. Both I associated and included into existing routines I have going on.
One roadblock can be routine changes. When I quit my job I stopped drinking my green drink every morning. The organization of my mornings were askew and I no longer stuck to my old routine. Another time I ran out of a specific supplement and didn’t get more for a couple of months when it arrived it sat lonely and unopened as I was out of the habit of taking it every morning.
Build Good Habits
The joy with habits is that years later, I realised a majority of my daily positive lifestyle choices were not choices anymore, just habits. For example; it isn't hard to get back to my normal eating after a holiday because it’s become so routine. The key here is time, bad habits were not formed in a day, so adding positive habits won’t happen overnight either. But it is encouraging to know that good habits become part of my life, all I need is time.
I made this quick list of things to boost mood by stimulating serotonin production mainly as a reminder to myself. I’ve been plagued by persistent grey cloud moods throughout most of my life starting in my teens. When I saw a psychiatrist we talked about recognising mood patterns and trying to do something about them before it gets worse.
Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters naturally occurring in our brains, low amounts are associated with feelings of doom, gloom, anger, worry, low confidence and low self-esteem, negative thoughts you can’t seem to turn off and many more. There are other neurotransmitters that could be low like catecholamines, GABA, and endorphins. Being low in one of these would cause different low mood symptoms. The Mood Cure is a must read if you need nutritional and supplemental help for depression, apathy or just bad moods for no reason.
Has been shown to boost serotonin production and make us feel good, although the effects aren't as long lasting as I’d like. Get that heavy, deep breathing going; plenty of oxygen is necessary to form serotonin.
Being exposed to bright light, usually from the sun can boost production of serotonin and also help regulate sleep. Regular household light bulbs just don’t cut it, get outside even if it’s overcast for at least 30 minutes.
Protein and healthy fats
Serotonin is made from an amino acid called tryptophan so make sure to include plenty of protein so you have the building blocks required. The brain is made from fat so make sure to include plenty of butter from grass-fed animals, pastured eggs, nuts, coconut oil, etc.
Bad mood instigators
What to avoid to help those feel-good serotonin levels? Stimulants like energy drinks, caffeinated soda or coffee can leave us feeling depleted after the energy high has worn off. Aspartame is also best avoided, not only is it a man-made chemical sweetener, one of its main ingredients phenylalanine converts to stimulating substances in the body and compete with serotonin in the brain.
Limit sugar and junk food, bad moods may cause us to turn to food to comfort ourselves but this just drives cravings for more nutrient-poor food and pushes more nutrient dense food off of our plate.
Success and Failure
I have heard of this mindset shift exercise talked about in relation to small business but I think it can perfectly apply to health.
Write down your goals or priorities, where you want to be in 5 or 10 years with your health, fitness, meditation or yoga practise. Think how future you will spend their day.
Fake it till you make it
Now start acting and spending your time like you are there. You already lost the weight, you fit into your old jeans, you feel confident in your swimsuit. Most importantly you love yourself, now. You have achieved your goals, you are successful and proud. Your day today and every day is exactly how you want your day to be once you’ve accomplished what you set out to do.
You confidently head into that spin class and then throw together a dinner future you would be proud of. We want our brains to stop seeing those roadblocks and just see the end goal, and trust that the results will happen.
We all know that person who wants to make healthier habits, get more exercise, cook healthy meals but just can’t seem to get there. Is motivation lacking? Maybe they just don’t care. I don’t think anyone should offer unsolicited advice to someone in their life. I like the saying “when the student is ready, the master will appear”. We can’t talk someone into making changes in their lives, but if they decide to want to make changes and need help - be there for them.
What's stopping you?
If making lasting healthy changes in your life are important then what is the roadblock? Everyone has those days that we feel that we have failed too many times. Too slow, too big, not good enough. Take comfort in the fact that every person (yes, even that person who seems to lead an impossibly perfect life) has those same feelings from time to time. It’s just that some people let those feelings stop them from leading their best lives. Others acknowledge those thoughts and then push them aside and say not today.
So how to tackle big lifestyle changes? Just like eating an elephant, one bite at a time.
Commit to cooking more meals at home.
Bring your lunch to work.
Prep meal ingredients ahead for the week.
Read ingredient labels.
Add more fresh vegetables.
Be more consistent with exercise, walking counts!
Cultivate a morning routine.
In bed by 10 pm.
Focus on one thing at a time and make it measurable. What you measure you improve. So put a number on it. You will bring your own lunch 4 days a week to work. You will get active 3 days this week. Set reminders on your phone or calendar. Once you make it a habit and it doesn't take much effort, incorporate something new.
What new healthy habit do you want to incorporate into your life? One of mine is making my bed every morning.
Stress Stress Stress
So everywhere I look these days the big talk is stress in regards to adrenal burn out and chronic illness. But What can contribute to stress? When I mention it to most people the response is “I’m not stressed”. The natural preconception about stress is that the person is sitting at their desk overwhelmed by worry or under a heavy workload. Stress can definitely be those things but it is also so much more.
Common triggers for stress on the body
Refined sugars and a high glycemic diet are a major factor for most people
Coffee, alcohol, energy drinks
Rushed mornings, commute
Sickness, allergies, disease, food sensitivities
Environmental toxins, mould
The key here is chronic stress which produces a chronic output of cortisol, day in day out. Humans were meant to handle high stress for a short period of time and be relaxed in between. In our modern lives, we now live with moderate stress all of the time, and it is this constant that depletes the adrenals.
Another important note on emotional stress and dwelling on negative emotions. When I’m sad I think sad thoughts. When I’m anxious I continue to worry about random things that will never happen or are totally out of my control when I’m angry I replay the anger in my thoughts. Some of us tend to prolong these emotions longer than what is necessary. I think it’s ok to feel those emotions, it’s totally healthy. But when we drag them out for longer than is necessary, it’s like scratching at a cut and not letting it heal. This kind of mindset is extremely detrimental to the stress load on our body. Negative, overwhelming feelings and emotions are a hard habit to kick for people like me but it’s imperative that we let them go as soon as possible. The first step is acknowledging the thought pattern. Meditation really helps here, mental exercises like visualization, repeating mantras or something like the emotional freedom technique I think are a must for anyone who experiences negative emotions on loop in their head.
Please understand that I love food but the more I assess my relationship to it, the more I can acknowledge that it's just food. When did eating spiral away from the function of nourishing ourselves to the activity it has morphed into now?
Food food food.
We eat for entertainment. We eat to soothe. We eat to relate to others. We eat because it tastes good. We eat because it's the new trendy thing to try. We eat because we saw it online or on social media in an advertisement.
Are we obsessed?
What if we just ate because we were hungry? Basic, satiating foods. Vegetables, meats maybe some grains. Closest to the way nature intended. And when we feel full, we stop eating. Can we be satisfied with this simple meal?
(The picture is Honey Mama's Lavender Red Rose bar, a feast for the eyes!)
Camping and health, until recently I never gave much thought to how the two could have anything to do with each other. I never camped as a child or growing up, and my first real camping experience was in my mid 20’s with my twin sister. By my late 20’s I was a turned into a camping pro by my love for rock climbing. I have camped at altitude, camped by myself on many occasions, camped in my car in rest areas and on the side of empty roads, camped on snow. But what does camping have to do with health? I started thinking more about what camping can add to my life and realised what a positive impact it can have on health.
When we spend day and night in natural light we are exposed completely to the light-dark cycle of the sun. I noticed I slept better and when the sun set’s you feel sleepy because I wasn't in an electrically lit up room. A study found just a few days of being exposed to the natural light and dark pattern of the sun re-set our circadian rhythm and resulted in an easier time falling and staying asleep afterwards back at home.
Cooking is more of a fun activity instead of a chore. We can all get involved in preparing the meal, cooking it and then eating it because it’s part of the adventure. We can invest the time into cooking a meal mindfully since we are not in a rush to check emails or watch Netflix. When car camping I always buy sturdy vegetables that last without refrigeration for days, no processed packaged convenience camp food here. Even when snow camping on Mt Baker where I had to carry in all of my food I made sure to sneak in some fresh items!
Back to our roots.
No electricity means fewer devices. When camping, by default I tend to unplug more from my phone and computer. Being in a beautiful place in nature is the best time to really be present. Take in your surroundings, spend quality time with your companions or make new friends around a shared campfire. We don’t need to see what’s happening on social media. When I’m camping it’s naturally the best time to take a technology detox. Take some photos sure, but then put the phone away.
None of these previous benefits take into account the powerful impact of being in nature. Getting away from urban life, stepping out of routine, being amongst the green of trees or desert plants or lakes, rivers, the ocean. I can observe for myself the impact these surrounds can have on reducing stress and improve mood. Research is now starting to show that not only does nature have a positive impact on our emotions but it can also help our physical well being by lowering the stress hormone cortisol and lowering blood pressure.
I didn't get into camping for the health benefits but it is interesting to see that there are explanations for the natural feeling of well being it brings. I’m sure there is plenty more research being done on explaining the positive effects of camping and nature but I don’t need to dig any deeper to know that the impact it has on me will have me coming back again and again.
When trying to live a more intentional life and stripping away mindless consumerism, mindless consumption of media, mindless eating. What activities will add to our lives instead of subtracting? Are we “switching off” to cope with life instead of living intentionally?
A large number of people use shopping, watching TV or eating as a day to day crutch or band-aid. Tired from a long day? We watch an entire season of a new show without moving. Stressed from work? We go all out on a pint of ice cream or a bag of tortilla chips. General doom and gloom? We hit the shops for some retail therapy. Mostly these self-soothing mechanisms are tried and true. But do they really work? In the end, are we left back where we started, or maybe worse off if we have sabotaged goals we had in place?
Long-term habits and lifestyle over perfection.
It can be hard to analyze our own coping strategies, especially if anxiety and negative thinking make an appearance in our lives. It can feel a whole lot easier to just not think about what is impacting us and space out. I watched two great documentaries, one about hoarding and the other about alcoholism. Both of these are just the extreme version of seemingly coping mechanisms, spun totally out of control. The people afflicted have lost the ability to handle stress in any other way. Some could even pinpoint what could be the root cause of their issue or that they needed therapy to work through historical issues but had no means to do so. This doesn't mean it’s like this for everyone who has extreme hoarding tendencies or alcoholism. A similar problem is those who constantly overeat, with shows like My 600-pound life showing us another stress mechanism gone extreme. When the seemingly only comfort or self-soothing is to eat in unhealthily large amounts; past the point of normal satiety. This is all done just to feel good, but it can form a vicious cycle of negative emotions.
When we have made a goal to eat more healthfully, we are doing ourselves a disservice by using junk food as a treat after a bad day. When we have made a goal to be more intentional with our purchases and reduce the things we own, we are sabotaging ourselves by using shopping as a reward. If our goal is to start a business, write more, build closer relationships with our family and friends or volunteer, we are disrupting our plans to achieve these things. As with all things in life, moderation is key. And when we moderate these activities let’s do it mindfully.
When we do want to eat something delicious, how about limiting it to a serving, say a few squares of chocolate and taking our time eating it and enjoying, don't distract yourself with emails or eat it while driving your car. Sit down and have a moment to savour and relax. If it’s shopping, then spend time researching what you intend to buy, consider if you really need it or if you need a quick hit how about buying something for charity? Groceries to donate to a food bank, or toys to a shelter. And with media lets put a limit on how much we consume, and when. If you find yourself scrolling through suggestions on Instagram and see hours swim past acknowledge what you’re doing. If you are watching something that doesn't interest you just because it’s there, set it aside. These are habits like anything else, and if we want to, we can change into whatever serves us best.