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The Fascia Blaster – Miracle Tool or Just Another Fitness Gadget?

There are rare moments when I get the exact same question from multiple clients, and it always surprises me which gadgets or topics are getting lots of attention from the media, fitness gurus and forums, social media and other news sources. I personally had never heard of the Fascia Blaster (maybe that shows how disconnected I am!), but when a few clients separately asked me my opinion about it, I suddenly needed to get “in the know.”
If you are like me and have never heard of the Fascia Blaster, it is a tool in the shape of a baton that has knobby-looking prongs extending along its shaft. The primary marketing focus of the tool is use for aesthetic purposes: reducing the bumpy look of cellulite that many women experience in the legs and other areas of the body. However, the tool also claims to provide pain relief, increase blood flow, reduce inflammation, smooth the fascia and even lessen brain fog (wow, that seems like a stretch!). In support of some of these claims, any prolonged manipulation of soft tissue by external means, whether it is through the use of a tool like the Fascia Blaster or by the hands of a massage therapist or bodyworker will generally increase blood flow, reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. Just to note, there are also other good “at home” tools out there to promote blood flow, release trigger points, reduce inflammation, and provide pain relief (the Theracane is one that comes to mind that many of my clients have used and liked).

However the claim to reduce the look of cellulite by treating the fascia brings up a couple important considerations. The first one is to understand how fascia functions and how to treat fascia in a way that supports long-lasting structural change in the body. Fascia, as the Fascia Blaster website rightly explains, is an interconnected matrix of supportive tissue in the body that would still maintain its shape and form if somehow you could remove all the blood, fluids, bones and other structural elements from the body. In this sense, enacting a treatment at one fascial location could and often does have the potential to impact another area of the body through the fascial matrix. The fascia tends to move as one connected system of tissue, making it more complex to treat compared to the individual fibers of muscle tissue, which have the capacity to get tight and release on the level of the individual band of tissue. This is both an interesting phenomenon as well as a challenge, as fascial problems will typically respond when the entire matrix is well positioned to make an adjustment. Based on my experience treating hundreds of clients, there is usually an energetic as well as a structural component to resolving fascia problems. Because the energetic component of the body would entail another blog entry on it’s own, I won’t get into the energetic aspect in this blog. The structural components for treating fascia are simply, extended time plus moderate pressure. In the world of bodywork there is an entire myofascial release system for treating fascia.

In my Chinese medicine based approach, cupping is the methodology I use to treat fascial problems and restrictions. Cupping is a tool derived from Chinese medicine, and even though classical Chinese medicine practitioners weren’t necessarily applying a purely structural approach or specifically aiming to treat fascia when they began using cups thousands of years ago, they inherently knew that fascia would naturally respond to the energetic applications of cupping. Since matter and energy are intertwined in the human body, no matter which way you analyze the application and effects of cupping, the outcome is the same: less tissue rigidity and restriction in range of motion, increased blood and fluid flow through the tissue, and less pain.
The second consideration is to understand why cellulite develops in the body (I’ll let you research this!) and even more so, connecting this appearance of this undesirable tissue back to the overall health of the body and the quality of its building blocks: the food we eat. Generally speaking, excess fat on the body is a safe dispensary for toxic materials (pollutants in the air, chemicals in cleaners and cosmetics and other household goods, pesticides on our foods, toxic by-products of pathogenic organisms residing in our bodies, hydrogenated oils, etc.). Adding excess weight in the form of adipose tissue is often our body’s built-in safety mechanism for keeping the bad stuff it can’t effectively neutralize and eliminate through the bowel out of blood circulation where, over time, it can cause major stress and harm to the organs. This is a point that most of my clients desiring weight loss are not aware of, and I often have to educate them that instead of orienting our work towards losing weight, we are going to orient our work towards improving the overall nutritional quality and functioning of the body so that the weight naturally stabilizes at the body’s healthiest set point. The condition of the all body tissue, fascia included, is dependent on consuming and absorbing enough high quality nutrients. No external gadget (no matter how good) can replace the body’s need to have proper fuel and in the right macronutrient ratios.

As far as reducing the look of cellulite by means of using the Fascia Blaster, I would say that using any similar tool would help in terms of improving the health and function of muscle tissue and fascia by means of massage and increasing blood flow and circulation to the tissue – which will have a subtle impact on how structure looks. However, I would be skeptical of major body appearance altering affects, simply because what is reflected on the outside as structure is most directly impacted the state of health inside the body (physiologically and emotionally).

The verdict: as long as you don’t have unrealistic expectations and don’t go too crazy with either time spent using the Fascia Blaster, or the amount of pressure you apply using this tool, I think it is a supportive at-home tool for overall tissue health and functioning – IF you are disciplined enough to haul it out and use it several times per week!

Which Protein Powder Should I Choose?

Summer is here, and I thought I would address a question I was recently asked by a client looking to make more smoothies/protein shakes as the weather heats up. She wanted to know which protein powder is best. As with all nutritional supplements, in the protein powder world, there are good powders and bad powders, and knowing what goes into the powder, how it is separated, and where it is sourced from is key. In this blog post, I will highlight a few of the better quality powders that I have used myself and give the pros and cons of each. Any of the following choices would be a good one, but please read on to consider the most important factors for your specific needs when making a selection.

Ancient Nutrition Bone Broth Protein Powder (Chocolate or Vanilla)

Pros: lots of flavors to choose from (chocolate, vanilla, coffee, turmeric, plain) and the flavor is relatively good (at least I can vouch for the chocolate and vanilla) and can be used to give a smoothie a distinct flavor profile; sweetened with stevia so it’s safe for folks with unstable blood sugar (think energy crashes all day long), diabetics and those concerned about avoiding all sugar because of gut problems or weight problems; made from bone broth which is my nutritional healing superfood of choice (when it comes from a healthy, high quality animal source).

Cons: contains guar gum and xantham gum, two gum-based stabilizers which can be sensitivities for those with gut health issues (and some data supports they may feed an overabundance of bad microbes in the gut), specifically those following the specific carb or candida diets. Also, I personally would not use this supplement as a replacement for good quality bone broth, since you don’t really know how much bone broth you are getting. When bone broth is in a dehydrated, powder form, it is also important to know what was done to dehydrate and process it. Just to be safe, I personally would not recommend these powders to those with sensitive stomachs, multiple food sensitivities, or other expressed gut health symptoms. If you don’t fall into that category, you may like this one!

Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides

Pros: nothing but grass-fed bovine derived collagen with no added stabilizers. This makes it a rich source of omega 3 and omega 6 healthy fats and usually pretty safe for folks with gut health symptoms, dysbiosis, and candida. Collagen peptides are essentially the amino acids that make up bone broth. Although this powder is not technically bone broth, it contains the same building blocks.

Cons: no flavor (this could be a pro in some cases too!), so you cannot rely on this powder to boost the flavor of your smoothie; mixes really well into beverages, cold or hot. Since this is not a manufacturer I have an insider’s perspective on, I can’t vouch for the processing methods, but overall, I have been happy using this powder.

Vital Whey Protein Powder (Vanilla)

Pros: great, creamy texture and really good flavor (this was the only protein powder my 5 year old son would consume for awhile) that can give your smoothie a distinct vanilla flavor profile; derived from the raw milk of grass-fed cows which should cause less reactivity to those who are sensitive to “regular” dairy; contains immunoglobulin and lactoferin, which are not only anti-microbial but also help break down the biofilm structures pathogenic gut bacteria hide behind; sweetened with stevia, so safe for folks with unstable blood sugar (think energy crashes all day long), diabetics and those concerned about avoiding all sugar because of gut problems or weight problems.

Cons: this is not casein-free (casein is the protein found in milk products that many people are sensitive to) and because of this, I would not recommend this powder to someone with expressed gut health symptoms, multiple food sensitivities, or even chronic sinus or ear infections (since dairy consumption contributes to these problems) – just to be safe! Also, this is not as much a “con” as it is a caution: with this or any whey protein powder, you have to be careful about how the protein powder is separated. If the manufacturer uses acid, the whey protein will become denatured and less bio-available. This is especially true if the person consuming the whey protein does not produce enough stomach acid (which is 90% plus of the population), since this will make it harder to break down and absorb any protein.

Biotics Whey Protein Isolate (http://www.thewellnessminute.com/new.php?p=Cowie_Courtney order code: DFILC262)

Pros: safe for those with gut health issues as the protein comes from whey but with the common milk protein (casein) removed for those with dairy sensitivities; creamy texture like a normal whey protein would have; contains immunoglobulin and lactoferin, which are not only anti-microbial but also help break down the biofilm structures pathogenic gut bacteria hide behind; formulated to help heal the gut and for this reason, I often recommend this powder to my clients with expressed gut health issues. It mixes really well into beverages, cold or hot, and compared to the Collagen Peptides lends a creamier consistency to the beverage. If someone is allergic to dairy, I would avoid this powder just to be absolutely safe. Compared to the average whey protein powder, Biotics uses a lot of care in the whey extraction process so as not to denature the whey protein, rendering it less bio-available to the body. This means you get a superior whey protein powder that is easily absorbed by even those with comprised digestion, without the common allergen/sensitivity of the casein present in whey.

Cons: like Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides above, there is no flavor (this could be a pro in some cases too!), so you cannot rely on this powder to boost the flavor of your smoothie.

Nutriclear (Chocolate or Plain) (http://www.thewellnessminute.com/new.php?p=Cowie_Courtney order code: DFILC262)

Pros: this is a pea-based protein and similar to the Whey Protein Isolate above, is separated with the same careful methods. It also contains a variety of nutrients aimed at supporting healthy liver and gallbladder function and elimination pathways, and for this reason, is a key component in the fast-track detox protocal Biotics has available. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the small amount of cane juice used in Nutriclear is actually anti-inflammatory and supportive to gut health, contrary to the normal anti-sugar rhetoric even I am prone to buy into from time to time. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating for significant amounts of sugar in anyone’s diet, however, small amounts of health-supportive sugars like raw honey and cane juice can be a good thing. Also, the taste on this one is pretty darn good! A satisfying, filling, detoxifying and alkalizing breakfast shake or snack is to combine 2 scoops of chocolate Nutriclear with one scoop of Nitrogreens with 12 oz of water or almond milk and blend in a blender or blender bottle.

Cons: I can’t really think of any with this particular protein powder, except that it may cause an unpleasant detox reaction in those with major gut health problems, especially who have not taken any steps to improve diet or heal the gut. This would be true with any product aimed at facilitating detox, so the key is to go slow.

Which Cosmetics Are Really Non-Toxic?

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I often find that the clients I work with are not only concerned about managing their health concerns naturally, they are concerned about doing everything as naturally as possible. They are often times aware of the chemicals found in everyday household products and do their best to make safe choices when it comes to non-toxic cleaners, bath products and cosmetics. My female clients especially will often ask what I personally use and recommend. There are a lot of good products out there that are relatively low in toxins, but for the purposes of keeping this blog entry manageable, I’m going to run a few of my own personal choice products through the “toxicity gauntlet” and see how they come out. For simplicity’s sake, I used the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website (http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/) as my test gauntlet for each individual ingredient I looked up. In cases of limited information, or a moderate to high toxicity rating, I also ran the ingredient through Google to see what other sources had to say.

First up is L’Bri Pure and Natural Deep Pore Cleanser. The list of ingredients is as follows (in order on the label):
Aloe barbadenisis leaf extract (aloe)
Chondrus Crispus (Carrageenan) Sucrose Cocoate = carrageenan (red seaweed extract)
PEG-7 Glycerol Cocoate (a synthetic polymer based on PEG and fatty acids derived from coconut oil)
Pine bark extract
St. John’s Wort extract
Chamomile flower extract
Bee pollen extract
Needle leaf extract
Balm mint extract
Horsetail extract
Retinyl palmitate (Vitamin A)
Tocopherol acetate (Vitamin E)
Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C)
Allantoin (naturally occurring nitrogenous compound)

Most of the ingredients on the above list score low on the toxicity rating scale, making them safe for topical use. In the case of PEG-7, needle leaf extract, and tocopherol acetate, EWG noted some concern of contamination occurring during the extraction process. The one ingredient that rated high was retinyl palmitate. Digging into this a bit further, it appears that any type of Vitamin A will cause the skin to be more susceptible to sun damage. Therefore, the way to get around this is to wear sunscreen to protect yourself if you are using a moisturizer containing Vitamin A. I’ve noted below the EWG’s take on this ingredient, as well as Ann Marie Gianni’s take on this ingredient, giving both sides of the coin.

http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/705545/RETINYL_PALMITATE_%28VITAMIN_A_PALMITATE%29/#

All in all, I think L’Bri comes out fairly non-toxic based on my investigation. Looking into my own skin care products and cosmetics led me to stumble upon the Ann Marie Gianni website and, although I’ve never tried her products (which do look pretty awesome, by the way), I do like all of the education she provides around toxicity in skin care and which ingredients to watch out for: https://www.annmariegianni.com/category/ingredient-watch-list-2/. Compared to the EWG website, which can be overwhelming or sometimes not provide complete information, I think Ann Marie’s website is much for functional for folks truly looking for advice around non-toxic skin care products. For example, I ran stearic acid (an alcohol-based ingredient in the L’Bri Gentle Moisture Lotion) through the EWG gauntlet and although it rated very low on the toxicity rating, I got an entirely different and thought-provoking perspective on using products that contain alcohols from the Ann Marie website: (https://www.annmariegianni.com/alcohols-in-skin-care/)

Just to end by highlighting a few of my other personal favorite products that are fairly non-toxic by the EWG (and my own) standards:

Dr. Bronner’s soaps – I love the hand soaps as well as the all-purpose soaps (both liquid and bar soaps) and you can find them almost everywhere (including Walmart).

Morroco Method shampoos – LOVE these shampoos! They take some getting used to at first since they are low lather, but I have noticed my hair is much healthier since I converted about a year ago.

No Miss cosmetic products – available online through Thrive Market. The eye cosmetics and nail polish are really pretty non-toxic but also surprisingly affordable! And, I think they apply well and have really good staying power (which is sometimes a concern with natural cosmetics).

Auromere toothpaste – great toothpaste on all fronts. The ingredients are safe. It does not contain toxic fluoride (if you are not familiar with the toxic effects of fluoride (an entirely different blog entry!) I encourage you to do some Google research or rent The Great Culling). It has good foaming action, great flavor (I personally like the licorice flavor, but mint is an option too), and cleans teeth well. I’ve tried some clay based and other natural toothpastes and always return to Auromere.

Bodywork vs. Massage – What is the Difference?

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I often call what I do “bodywork” rather than “massage,” mainly because the training I have is rather niche, the tools I work with are a little out-of-the-box, and my primary focus is on resolving specific health complaints. That being said, it is not easy to describe exactly what is different between massage and bodywork, and many practitioners who call themselves massage therapists also do bodywork. Many bodyworkers also do massage. A better way of comparing massage and bodywork is to clarify some aspects that normally distinguish the massage and bodywork cultures.

Amongst the general population, “massage therapy” is a much more widely used and understood term, and massage exists in a more prevalent and standardized educational form compared to bodywork. There are a number of established trade schools across the United States that teach a broad foundational curriculum for gaining skill and competency in manipulating soft tissue – either to achieve a therapeutic outcome or to just to make someone feel better – and these schools are where the majority of folks who work on soft tissue (and usually call themselves “massage therapists”) emanate from. In the State of Wisconsin, most graduates of these schools need to pass a licensing exam that confirms they have achieved a minimum understanding of anatomy, physiology and kinesiology of the body, amongst other things, in order to perform skilled touch therapy. In the arena of massage therapy, it is common for practitioners to work with a menu of styles (Swedish, deep tissue, sports, etc), and the client’s preference for a specific style of touch usually becomes the focal point of the work delivered.

Practitioners who call themselves “bodyworkers” usually come into practice from more obscure, oral traditions of training that extend from a lineage of practitioners whose life work specialized in a specific system or methodology of treating and/or healing the body through manual or energetic means. While the style of touch is important in bodywork as well, there is less emphasis on touching to create a pleasing effect for the client and more emphasis on the methodology as the means to achieving a specific therapeutic goal, such as a state of “no pain” or trauma release. These lesser known bodywork systems usually teach an approach that goes beyond just working with soft tissue and structure, but considers the emotional and energetic aspects of the person being worked on as well. Most of these methods teach a more intuitive way of working with the body that does not always follow an A-B-C logic and instead develops the practitioner’s confidence to follow instinct on where, when and how to touch. Some of these bodywork modalities are part of larger systems of understanding human health and functioning, like Chinese medicine and yoga. Some examples of bodywork include: tui na, shiatsu, reiki, Rolfing, Feldenkrais, craniosacral and myofascial release. Practitioners who do exclusively one or more of these forms of bodywork are exempt from needing a license to practice in the State of Wisconsin, although many do go to school to become licensed massage therapists in states with licensure requirements.

Tips and Tricks for Making Whole Foods Eating Easier Than You Thought

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I won’t lie; anyone who has really converted to a way of eating that centers around consuming whole foods 90% of the time (or more) knows that it takes planning and preparation. Even though I try to do it gently, I always end up breaking this truth to the folks I council on nutrition therapy. The reality is that when you develop a chronic health condition that just won’t go away, you realize you basically have two options: 1) modify your diet and lifestyle in order to manage or even eliminate the symptoms or 2) rely on a medication (with a whole host of side effects and possible risks) to “band-aid” the symptoms for as long as you have the condition (possibly the rest of your life). Most of the people I work with come to me because they’ve already chosen to try option 1. So, speaking from the position of nutrition therapist, busy mom, business owner and someone who values tools and approaches to maximize efficiency, I’m offering you my own personal tried and true tips for cutting down on food prep time in the kitchen while still managing to prepare and eat a whole foods diet most of the time. Here we go!

Plan your grocery shopping on a weekend day or a weekday that you normally do not work and do not have a busy schedule. Once you get home and unload the groceries in the fridge, take some extra time to do the following right away:

Peel and cut up any raw veggies like celery or carrots and put them in a large bowl of water so that they are ready to grab and eat either on the run or as a quick snack. These will keep for up to a week.
Peel and cut up any root veggies (sweet potatoes, rutabaga, beets etc) that you plan to eat in the next three days and place them in a bowl of water. You can save the ends/peels of these veggies to add to a large stockpot to make bone broth (at least, that’s what I do!).

Have a plan for your veggies and fruit so you use them at their freshest when the vitamin content is highest. With kale, you can make kale chips and keep in the fridge for a week (preserving the kale a bit longer). With other veggies, especially veggies you might add to soups or sautee later in the week, you can chop and put in a large ziplock and freeze to pull out when you want them. Same with fruit. Lots of almost rotten bananas (or as my five-year old say, “I’m sick of eating” bananas) get peeled, chopped and thrown into a ziplock to freeze and use later to make smoothies or banana almond milk.

Plan to cook double the amount of dinner than you normally do a few times per week when you’ve got ample time, and portion out extra servings into glass containers to freeze for later in the week. Since I don’t do microwaves, I like glass because it does not leach unwanted chemicals into food and because I can pull out a container in the morning, let it come to room temperature and then pop it directly in the oven without needing to transfer it to a different container to heat up.

Consider planning 1-2 bulk cooking days per month where you plan to make 4-5 meals in large quantities and freeze extras in glass containers. I also do this with homemade paleo bread. I make several loaves, slice them up and then freeze them in a large ziplock with parchment paper between slices to grab out just a couple of frozen slices to heat in the oven when I want bread. This bulk cooking day can be a fun event that you do with kids or friends or while listening to an audiobook or some good music; it doesn’t have to be “work.”
When activating nuts or dehydrating fruit, do a lot at once and fill every tray of your dehydrator. You can always freeze the extras you won’t eat right away and nuts will keep for several weeks in the fridge.

Prepare the night before. Get into the habit of putting your grains (rice, quinoa, millet, etc) into a rice cooker with a timer you can set to go off at the time you plan to eat them the next day. You pre-soak your grains (breaking down the phytates and making them easier to digest) by doing this and save the cooking time the next day.

Recipes from November 9 Talk on Healthy Fat

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Sprouted Brown Rice Salad
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2 cups sprouted organic brown rice, soaked 4 hours and then cooked in bone broth (enough to cover plus ¼ to ½ inch at the top)
½ cup diced fresh pineapple
¼ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup chopped activated pecans (pecans soaked for 8 hours)
¼ cup chopped yellow onion
2 T avocado oil (or any cold-pressed nut oil)
1-2 T balsamic vinegar

Mix everything together and enjoy!

Bone Broth
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1 large chicken carcass (organic and pastured is best)
1/2 onion, peel and everything
8 one-inch carrot “stubs” from whole carrots
2 T apple cider vinegar

Place everything in a large stock pot, crock pot, or Instant Pot, with enough water to cover the top of the chicken carcass. Cook on the lowest setting for at least 20 hours. Let cool and then strain the liquid through a wire-mesh strainer. Add sea salt to taste.

Detox Salad
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2 beets (raw)
2 green apples
2 T olive oil
2 T apple cider vinegar

Sea salt to taste
Julienne the beets and carrots together in a large bowl using a hand tool, knife or Saladmaster. Add the olive oil, ACV, and sea salt and toss to coat evenly. Enjoy!

Activated Almonds and Pepitas
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2 cups almonds (raw and organic are best. I ordered mine in bulk from Amazon.)
1 cup pepitas (raw and organic are best. I ordered mine in bulk from Amazon. )

Cover the almonds and pepitas with water and let sit for 8 hours or overnight. Strain the water and then spread in one layer in a dehydrator (you may need to use a few trays and stack them), or spread across a baking pan lined with parchment paper. If using an oven, bake on the lowest setting for 2-3 hours, checking every hour, until the nuts are dry. If using a dehydrator, run for 3-4 hours, until the nuts are dry. Best to keep the activated nuts in a large glass mason jar in the fridge.

Chocolate Avocado Pudding
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1 cup full fat coconut milk
2 ripe avocados, peeled and pitted
1/3 cup plus 1 T unsweetened cocoa powder
½ cup plus 2 T pure maple syrup (I used raw honey)
2 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of sea salt

Add all ingredients to a food processor and blend, scraping down the sides until a pudding consistency is formed. Taste and adjust the ingredients to your liking.

Pushing the “Big Ag” Agenda at the Level of Day Care

As a nutrition therapy practitioner who leans towards paleo, I am used to being an odd duck within in the food consumer pond of my region of the United States. It is not uncommon for me to regularly stump the cashier at the grocery store with the items I find in the produce section (“Is this a root vegetable or a squash?”). Bone broth is one of my five-year old son’s most frequently requested beverages to drink at home, even though I know most five-year olds have never used those two words in combination.

I’m okay with being abnormal. But, as a free-thinker in the normally nutritionally befuddled world at large, please, please, don’t take away my ability to choose what I want to eat. On Friday of last week, the unthinkable happened. As I was dropping off my son at day care (where I happen to provide nut milk alternatives that I carefully select for his consumption at breakfast and lunch in place of cow’s milk), I was pulled aside by the cafeteria lady and told that I could no longer bring in flavored nut milk, and the milk replacement product had to have at least 8 grams of protein per serving. Say what?! I took a moment to get over my shock as she explained that someone from the day care had recently attended a meeting about new nutrient/food guidelines in day cares and learned the USDA is now apparently cracking down on milk and milk replacement productsalmond-milk-1623610__180 for children, including the beverages parents choose to bring in in place of the standard school offering.

Although she didn’t come right out and say what I should start bringing in, she went on to show me two products in the school’s refrigerator that did meet those guidelines: soymilk and cow’s milk. Gee, how ironic that the meat and dairy industry and soybean farmers are two of the most notorious “Big Ag” players shaping food policy in the United States, not to mention spending oodles of dollars on influential lobbyists working tirelessly to convince our government that their agendas have our best public health interests in mind. And those two types of milk just happen to meet the requirements of this new regulation! Never mind the fact that most of American dairy is now produced in CAFOs coming from cows that not only rarely see the light of day, but are regularly treated with growth hormones and antibiotics (that, yes, do get into the meat and milk we humans consume), or that soy, along with corn, is one of the most heavily subsidized and pesticide treated crops in the United States – and happens to be in just about every processed and packaged food you can find in the grocery store (ranging from veggie burgers to Clif bars to chocolate). Let’s not even get into the phytoestrogens contained in soy that confuse our body’s hormone regulation, or how hard it is for our bodies to break down and extract the nutrients from any form of soy that has not been fermented and prepared properly as done in traditional consumption methods in Asia.

The biggest shocker and most troublesome aspect of this announcement from the cafeteria lady was the fact that my ability to decide what is in my son’s best nutritional interests (at least as long as he is at school) no longer matters according to this new “policy,” and it makes no difference how educated I am on the topic of nutrition or whether or not I could provide a list of credible, research backed reasons as to why it makes no sense to set a policy around flavor and protein content. While we are singling out protein, why don’t we also talk about sugar content too? And who is out there making sure our children are eating enough healthy fat to sustain their energy and growth?! (I find it incredibly ironic that the USDA guidelines noted above also require low-fat cow’s milk to be served in place of the real thing and make no mention of unflavored milk substitutes having as much or more added sugar compared to their flavored counterparts).

Anyhow, I write this blog more from a place of shock, incredible dismay, and outrage that this is the direction our nutrition policies are going within our child care facilities, and it makes me wonder what other public institutions will be hit next. We need more highly educated, expertly trained, non-biased nutritionists, naturopaths and other health care provider/decision-makers lobbying for our public health interests rather than people who have a vested interest in profitability and/or driving our health as a nation towards further disease while couching these new policies in terms of bettering our children’s nutrition. Or maybe we parents of children ages 2-5 can all start by collectively showing up on Monday at daycare with our children and a half gallon mason jar of homemade bone broth (spiked with collagen peptides from grass-fed bovine just to up the protein content) in hand, offer it to the lunch lady, and say “Here you go. The USDA asked for unflavored and at least 8 grams of protein. You got it.”

Instead of Managing Stress, Try Maximizing Joy

“Stress” has become one of the biggest buzzwords in our culture in modern times. Whether you see a medical doctor or an acupuncturist, it is becoming more and more common for health practitioners of all kinds to mention “stress management” in the context of treating a disease or imbalance. Beyond yoga, meditation, exercise, prayer, or taking a vacation, most practitioners do not have a lot of other suggestions to offer when it comes to managing stress. If you have achieved profound change in your stress levels using one of these methods, awesome! The rest of this blog will be fairly redundant for you. However, I’ve noticed that in the population of clients I work with, many of them identify the need to better manage stress and express a lack of success despite trying a variety of tools. Every once in awhile, I’m asked about ideas, suggestions or tips I have on this topic.

While I agree with the majority of the medical community that stress management is an area to point to when talking about health, I think the word “stress” is far too vague and not contemplative enough for the average person to really get to the golden nugget of lifestyle or mindset change needed and act on it. Was it rush hour traffic, the kids running around the house howling like banshees, the tense meeting at work, the phone dinging continuously with incoming text messages, or the nasty-gram that showed up in the email inbox that piled on the feeling of stress? Or is it something in our reaction to any and all of these things that creates the stress and needs to be better “managed”?
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I think what we call “stress” is what most people experience as an often generalized but unsettling feeling of being “off” in some way. In other words, I think stress is a condition we feel when we become distanced enough from our true selves- the part of ourselves that has the capacity to remain calm and centered and keep perspective on the bigger picture no matter what life throws at us. I realize that I am probably replacing one vague concept with another in saying this, but stick with me. In trying to think about and analyze stress, it can easily become one big, entangled web of “stuff” we point to that causes us to bend and move in directions in our life that we would not ordinarily if we could better command the space we live in.

I’ll offer an example from my own world. Since I’ve become a parent (almost five years ago now), I’ve come to accept that I just can’t move as fast as I would like to. Simple things like getting out the door and into the car in a timely fashion are rarities in my world. So, even though I am a morning person, and a relatively fast-paced person in my own right, I’ve come to accept that I need to yield to the rhythm of my son during this time of day. This means making my client schedule work for me instead of frantically trying to rush around, creating “stress,” in order to maintain the fast pace I used to have and still tend to identify with. This is just one small example of an area where I realized I had to redesign myself to flow a little better with how my life now naturally wants to move, thereby reducing my feelings of angst, instead of remaining trapped in an identity paradigm that no longer serves me. We are creatures of habit with lots of blind spots and recognizing even the small changes we can make to bring ourselves into a higher state of evolution can be challenging as we sit down to think about what’s not working in our lives and causing us “stress.”

The other issue I have with focusing on “managing stress” is the overall emphasis on trying to break down and analyze something we view as inherently wrong and trying to fix it. Without going too far down this path, I see this in some ways as a microcosm of the general approach and biggest shortcoming of modern day medicine: focusing too much on what’s “wrong.” Why not, instead, focus on what’s right? This is the direction I like to orient people: how can you make more time for what brings you joy rather than perseverating over and trying to fix what’s causing you stress? When we’re in the moment of enjoyment, we all know what it feels like. We feel uplifted, spontaneous, childlike, and often lose track of time. We smile and laugh copiously. Our body knows instantly when something brings us joy, and as children it was very natural and very easy to fall into activities that put us into that state. As adults, it seems, we exist less and less in this space of spontaneity and get so used to taking care of business (stress) that we may have forgotten that there are indeed certain activities we used to do that make us feel happy, light, and free.

Cultivating this feeling and stepping into an activity that brings up joy is, from my perspective, much more powerful than any stress management technique I’ve come across. When we are in a joyful space, we are also experiencing a feeling of reconnection with our true selves. The more we can be in this type of state, the more we begin to take on a new perspective about everything we perceive as “wrong” – and this new perspective often leads to a solution of betterment that automatically downplays the problem of stress. This is the starting point for healing any condition, and this is why I advocate that my clients do the homework of consciously making a list of the things that bring them joy (just in case they need a reminder!) and actually scheduling this time into their calendars on a regular basis.

Be Wary of Any “One Size Fits All” Approach to Healing

I was recently asked by a client for my opinion regarding a system she had heard about from another health practitioner that involves ingesting a combination of certain essential oils along with sea salt to in order to balance minerals in the body to resolve hormonal issues. I’d like to offer my thoughts on this particular system as well as generally on any “one size fits all” type of approach to resolving a health concern.

Putting on my nutrition therapy practitioner hat, let’s start with the approach of using essential oils and sea salt to balance minerals and ultimately hormone function. There are a number of factors to consider in this equation. First of all, mineral balance, specifically when it comes to calcium, is a game of co-factors. Most people get sufficient calcium in the diet (even in cases where the diet is not optimal). However, we need the proper cofactors to digest this calcium and utilize it properly in the body. Although there are a number of important cofactors, possibly the most important of these is digestion. We could be eating the healthiest foods in the world but if we are not properly digesting and absorbing the nutrients from these foods, mineral absorption will also be insufficient. Another basic yet very important cofactor is sufficient hydration. Drinking enough pure water is critical to giving the body a means to transport nutrients, including minerals in and out of the cells and body tissue. Many, many people do not drink nearly enough water, which not only impacts mineral status, but also impacts a whole host of other important processes in the body. As a rule of thumb, we need to be drinking at least our body weight divided by two in terms of number of total fluid ounces of water each day. We cap this number at 100 fluid ounces, and this would be the mark for anyone weighing 200 pounds or more.

Secondly, while certain essential oils such as oil of oregano have been traditionally ingested to support the body in killing off pathogens (viruses, bacteria, yeast, parasites), the therapeutic use of most essential oils was limited to topically or aromatically. Essential oils are not only extremely concentrated, but it is also important to know that many of the essential oils found at the local supermarket or health food store are diluted with carrier oils of questionable purity. This brings up an entirely separate topic of how important it is to know the quality, purity and processing methods of the oils we ingest for cooking or otherwise that I won’t take the time to go into here. However, suffice it to say that ingesting impure and rancid oils can cause damage and irritation to our body’s cells and tissues. Even if the oil is of high quality and is combined with a pure carrier oil that is safe to consume, I would still be cautious as, compared to medicinal herbs, traditional cultures did not appear to ingest essential oils for therapeutic purposes. In terms of modern research as well, much has been studied on the aromatic benefits of essential oils but the jury is out on the safety of consuming essential oils.

Thirdly, although some of the plant components of certain oils like cinnamon, support the body through actions like helping to regulate blood sugar, and sea salt contributes a number of beneficial trace minerals, optimal mineral balance comes with addressing other health foundations first, namely digestion, blood sugar regulation, adrenal functioning, and essential fatty acid levels. If there is dysregulation in the body in any of these areas, especially digestion, it will be very difficult to achieve optimal mineral levels. Taking this one step further, healthy hormone function depends not only on optimal mineral balance in the body, but again, on proper digestion, sugar handling, adrenal function, vitamin needs, pituitary and thyroid function. Any one or a combination of these areas may need to be addressed in order to support healthy hormone function.

This brings me to my next point about a “one size fits all approach.” Nutrition therapy and Chinese medicine recognize bio-individuality. This means that there is no one universal approach to restoring a particular health imbalance. Using hormone function as an example, in nutrition therapy, one person might express blood sugar regulation and adrenal functioning as priorities to be addressed first in order to restore balance, while in another person it might be digestion and nutrient absorption. Using essential oils and sea salt as a starting point to address hormone regulation in both of these cases is not likely to yield a good result as these are not optimal tools to support digestion and adrenal functioning. The beauty of an approach that combines the analytical thinking skills and nutritional knowledge of the practitioner in evaluating a client’s symptom presentation and dietary habits with an evaluation that taps directly into the innate wisdom of the body is that it offers a unique, customizable and unequivocal plan to support the body that is directly tied to and verified by the body’s unique expression of what it needs for support.

If nothing else, I try to encourage all of the clients I work with to become healthy skeptics and critical thinkers when considering any one stock approach, protocol or methodology that doesn’t allow for individual consideration and flexibility, no matter which condition or area of health they are seeking treatment in. This individual expression of imbalance in health and the ability to use adaptive evaluation methods to achieve a unique plan of treatment are characteristics underlying any credible traditional health approach and most definitely still hold true today.

Spring Season Flowers

What Season Are You In?

Even though the world outside is making its transition (rather clumsily here in in Wisconsin) to spring, I came to the curious conclusion recently that my body seems to be transitioning into winter mode. I made plans to go dancing, meet up for a second time with a few friends I had just met, and in general, put myself in environments with new people and new conversations – which all demand a certain level of adaptability and the capacity to be “on” for long periods of time – and I came away feeling somewhat drained and like I needed to go home and seek alone time to recharge.

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