Friday, January 29, 2010

Good Vibrations

Over the past year much of my health and wellness focus had centered around food. I successfully cut out caffeine for extended periods of time and, for the most part, let go of all dairy (eggs included). While these goals have been very important, I knew that I needed to balance diet with some sort of physical activity. Stress management was also an essential component to wellness but I found excuses not to incorporate it into daily life. I was busy! I was putting in many extra hours at work, planning lots of get togethers with friends, and meeting a range of characters through an online dating site. I had no time to exercise!

Then I found myself in an emotional tizzy, which forced me to reconsider my lifestyle choices.

I will spare the details that caused the upset with exception to say that it involved a boy and resulted in emotional-turned-severe physical symptoms that lasted for almost a week. I was in limbo and felt isolated. I let my thoughts, feelings and emotions take over my body to the extent that I thought I'd have to go to the ER. I couldn't believe how sick I got from the stress. This extreme bodily response was my wake-up call, prompting me to seek a mind/body balance and to take ownership of my health.

During that week, while still very unsettled, I starting doing yoga and guided relaxations. Every day and night I set time aside to be calm, centered, and present. My mind still wandered about the situation that instigated my condition but I was nonetheless regimented in activities geared towards stability and my body's well-being.

It's only been three weeks since the start of my regular yoga practice. I am hooked! In the first week I saw noticeable differences including increased flexibility, improved muscletone, and most importantly, feeling happier, healthier, grounded, stronger and more at peace. I am typically on my mat for 25 minutes every morning and night. Doing a little to begin and end the day leaves me feeling more awake, energetic and centered throughout the day and more relaxed and calm in the evening.

My favorite yoga routine thus far can be found on the DVD Crazy Sexy Cancer, a documentary about one inspiring woman's search for a cure. Bonus features include the 25 minute yoga practice as well as a 15 minute guided relaxation with Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman. I highly recommend this yoga routine for it's simple instruction, compilation of poses, accessibility and for its effectiveness.

One of the statements in the film that stuck with me and motivates me to continue my yoga practice (and other forms of movement) comes from Yogeswari, a world-renowned yoga instructor. I presume she had said this during a class that specifically addressed symptoms of serious health conditions and the effects of yoga on these conditions.

"One of the major factors which cause disease has to do with lack of oxygenation to certain body parts. Everything in this Universe is vibration. Molecular cellular atomic particles vibrate."

Movement is vibration.

Movement is medicine.

Movement is life-affirming.

Yoga is my mode and it's got me high on life and good vibrations!

For more information on yoga and its effects on health, check out the National Institutes of Health.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

When Life Gets Nutty, Make Nut Milk!

I'm into week two with one more week to go of an elimination diet, which entails exclusion of some pervasive food items - milk, eggs, yogurt and cheese. But these culprit foods have, for the most part, been off my plate for months. The elimination diet is definitely making me more diligent and committed, prepping me for the next 365 days sans-dairy-challenge. The good news is that I've consistently, and rather seemlessly, stuck with cutting out cow's milk. Uber yummy nut milks have been my salvation!

I began purchasing processed nut milks, mainly almond-flavored, at Whole Foods. It wasn't love-at-first-sip but in a week's time they became a staple item in my smoothies. Aside from their great (one-week's time acquired) taste, nut milks offer a healthy alternative for people dealing with dairy sensitivities. Until my doctor had advised removing cow's milk from my diet, I had never stopped to think how humans came to regard it as an acceptable and healthy beverage. The milk industry is good at marketing! It is a bizarre notion to think that mother's milk from an animal would be good for anyone other than that mama's baby. Not sure nature intended that it be ours to consume. But then again, agreeing with this wholeheartedly would mean that cheese goes too. That's another topic for another time.

Have I mentioned that nut-milk-makin' is cheap and oh-so-easy? Give it a go!

1) Grab a cup o raw nuts and soak them overnight
2) In the mornin', excitedly rush out of bed
3) Blend the nuts with 2-4 cups of water
4) Strain with a nut milk bag* or filter of sorts
5) Add some sweetener if the mood strikes you

I have yet to experiment but honey, agave, cacao powder and vanilla extract are on my list to add to the nut milks. Some recipes I've seen also recommend pitted dates (pre-soaked and blended in with the nuts and water). I tend to use the milk for smoothies and don't feel the need to sweeten.

Note: If you want to add to the repertoire of milks, check out rice, hemp, and oat. (oat may be an issue for people with gluten allergies).

*A nut milk bag is worth the $10 investment if you don't have a juicer. My friend, who couldn't get her juice-maker to Korea, uses her bag for nut milks and for making veggie and fruit juices.

Time to soak the cashews and macadamias! Go nuts!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Time for a Shout Out!

I want to give a big THANK YOU to my dear friend Susan, the creative goddess responsible for my new Holistic Health Junkie logo!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Life without Joe

Letting go of Joe and all things caffeine has been a piece of cake... so far. Caffeine withdrawal is usually one of the first issues to surface during an elimination diet. Thankfully, I had started using more herbal teas a few weeks ago as a replacement for the daily cups of coffee. So while I wasn't expecting to be on an elimination diet, I'd inadvertently gotten a head start on the new food plan and had bypassed the migraine stage!

Here's what I've been drinking in place of coffee:

Herbal teas are my new liquid love ~ Twinings makes a kick-ass orange blend (pictured above). Peppermint is another refreshing option!

Dandy Blend, Roma, and Caffix are instant mock coffees, with blends of dandelion, chicory, or barley. I liked Caffix the best. You can usually find these brands at Whole Foods. To add a flavorful twist I use cinnamon or orange essence, which can be found in the spice aisle.

Teeccino also offers instant "coffee" blends. Still waiting for my trial pack to arrive but I have a feeling this will be the best one yet. The Teeccino site also hosts information on the benefits of reducing or eliminating caffeine from your food plan. Check them out!

I've saved the best drink for last!

I'm very excited to share with you a recipe from Raw foods chef Kristen Suzanne! She has generously given permission to publish it on HHJ. Thanks, Kristen!

My Mocha Latte Fix

Yields 2 Servings

2 cups water
3/4 cup Brazil nuts, unsoaked
1/2 cup cashews, soaked 1 hour, rinsed and drained
2 soft dates, pitted
1 tbsp raw chocolate powder
2 tsp raw agave nectar
3/4 tsp coffee extract
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 vanilla bean (I used a little vanilla extract)
pinch nutmeg
pinch cayenne (gives it some "heat")
pinch sea salt (optional)

Sunday, January 17, 2010


I'm three days into the 3 week preliminary elimination diet and, despite starting it with a less than positive attitude, I quickly found many things to appreciate:

A sister who spent 15 minutes with me in the soup aisle reading tons of labels to choose quick meals with approved ingredients.

A friend in Korea who is implementing a similar diet. We'll relive old times from our previous elimination plan and offer lots of support to each other.

A date who, upon news that I couldn't partake in wine-drinking, offered to buy me as much water and tea as I'd like. :P

A girlfriend who cooked me a fabulous tuscan meal that took into account my dietary restrictions.

A friend who had smoothies delivered to my doorstep.

Life is abundant and good!

Friday, January 15, 2010

The F in Function

Yes, that's the F word of the day. Function. Although I'm frustrated as well, mainly on the subject of food and the elimination diet I'm to undertake, as per my new doctor's orders, for 3 weeks starting today. Elimination diets consist of fruits, vegetables, grains and a few select meats. That's it! Alcohol, caffeine, and dairy, among some other vices, are not allowed. If all goes according to plan and the next three weeks show signs of improvement, I'm to keep up the plan for one year. ONE freakin' YEAR.

After months of research, consideration, procrastination, and even a blog post on the topic, I finally booked an appointment with a practitioner trained in Functional Medicine. There were only a handful of them in the area and I quickly ran into issues: some doctors were not accepting insurance and another couldn't even put me on a waitlist! A prominent Philadelphia practice required a $575 consultation fee. Another in Montgomery County was charging $250 but believed my insurance would reimburse me at least partially. Yikes! I scored big time when a doctor in my little town of 3,000 Narbs happened to have a dual practice, which meant that I'd only need to make a co-payment. $20 for a functional medicine consult? And I could walk to the doctor's office! Cha ching!

I've often been asked about the differences between functional and traditional medicine. Here's the cliff notes version:

FM looks at the person (work, environment, relationships, nutrition...) and how the body systems function as a whole. Conventional medicine generally involves a diagnosis and treatment of symptoms and is typically broken down into specialties (liver doctor, heart doc, etc...). FM looks for underlying causes of symptoms. FM also explores balances/imbalances within the body. Is a vitamin/mineral deficiency the cause of a symptom in a patient? Would he/she benefit from a probiotic? Is their diet making them sick? Etc...Etc...

I have my own case in point. I had been breaking out for several months for no apparent reason and my dermatologist, without asking anything about diet or considering hormone testing prescribed me a 3 month supply of antibiotics. I wanted to know why I was having this problem and felt the antibiotic would simply mask the real issue(s). My primary doctor at the time (who was not an FM doctor but happened to think and test like them) ordered a blood test for food sensitivities and found that I was producing antibodies to certain foods. Eliminating foods required more work on my part but was much safer than taking an antibiotic.

My current elimination diet is pretty similar to the one Olivia and I did in August 2008 but this one will last much longer. And I won't have anyone to commiserate with. While this new food plan will be good for me, I couldn't get the other F word out of my head as I strolled through the aisles of Whole Foods this morning. I was thinking of the not so great parts of the plan:

* It's hard to go it alone
* Eating out won't be as easy
* Dates will probably look at me funny

Then I thought about the good parts:

* I've done this food plan before and know what to expect (hello temptation!)
* I'll rebuild my intestinal wall (this might be the sexiest thing I have ever written) :P
* I'll strengthen my immune system, which has been compromised, and prevent bigger health issues down the road (fingers crossed).

Alright, that's enough negativity for one day. I'm off to find my friend Will Power. :)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Into Fruition!

Over the past two weeks I have been thinking about both everyday and long-term goals I want to accomplish this year. My friend Melinda has a great tradition of doing this every new years day. She inspired me to complete a similar reflective and intention-centered exercise.

I brainstormed and recorded specific goals related to work/career, relationships, health, and financial stability.

As a visual learner, I found Kris Carr's idea of vision boards to be particularly exciting! Basically the point of the board is to represent your set intentions, remind you to do your homework towards realizing these intentions, and put good vibes out to the Universe. Ms. Universe usually delivers in abundance!

Kris' link above references some specific and seemingly out-of-reach goals she achieved with her vision board. I had mentioned this project to a colleague whose mother had a similar successful experience. Her mother had needed $17,000 to cover some unforseen expenses. She wrote a fake check to herself, posted it on her wall, and looked at it daily. Six months later, she received a raise...for $17,000. Bottom line: intentions are powerful!

Here is my pictoral collage of goals, which will serve as a daily reminder of where I'm hoping to go with them! The Circle of Life holistic model, which advocates balancing 12 main life themes, is the wheel pictured below. Not pictured are the Dalai Lama's Instructions for Life, which are posted in the corner of the vision board.

Here's to lots of juicy fruit in 2010!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Kicking the Habit ~ by Ed

First off, I'd like to thank Jen for giving me the forum to share my story. I'm a man of few vices. I don't drink much, don't smoke, etc.... Well, there was one drug I was addicted to, but fortunately, I've recently beaten my addiction to caffeine.

A little background is needed to demonstrate how bad the problem was. I'd been drinking soda for most of my life. Bless my parents, but they did not have any problem letting us drink it. Coke was a staple at any family gathering, readily available to any child who wanted it. Through no fault of their own, my parents weren't able to make dinner many nights, so we often had Happy Meals, complete with a small Coke. Later on, my father kept his refrigerator stocked with root beer or Dr. Pepper.

Dr. Pepper was my go to drink whenever I felt the need for caffeine. I was fond of this lame line when drinking it: "I'm sick and the only one who can write me a prescription is Dr. Pepper." Before I successfully gave up caffeine, I would drink as many as 60 oz. of soda a day. At the minimum, I was drinking 40 on a consistent basis. One 20 oz. soda at 9:30 a.m. would get me through the morning and another at 11:30 would get me through the afternoon. Occasionally, I would get a full liter bottle. By occasionally, I mean three or four times a week. Even after long runs, I would have a soda to "replenish" my body.

Enter Jen. Or Jen's blog post about caffeine to be more specific "Crash and Burn (Then Get Back Up)." I knew soda was bad for me. Who doesn't? I'd been blessed with great metabolism so all the bad calories I was putting in my body weren't showing up. It allowed me to brush off my addiction. Seeing how good it made Jen feel to go without caffeine filled me with a new resolve. After reading that blog posting I went to my car and poured the bottle of soda I'd been saving on the ground. It was just the symbolic, cliched gesture that I needed to finally get soda out of my life. I only put water in that Dr. Pepper bottle now.

Since reading Jen's post, I haven't had a sip of soda, the longest I've ever gone without it (3 months and counting). I don't plan on going back, either. To fully kick the habit, I needed to replace the soda with something else. Water did the trick for the fluids, but I still needed a boost to get through the mornings. My soda habit was costing around $15 a week. With that money freed up, I began to invest in more fruit and vegetables, packing carrots, grapes, a banana and apple every day. I no longer got tired shortly after arriving at work and I generally felt better throughout the day now. I even eat less junk food since I'm not going to Wawa as much or stopping by the cafe at work. I even lost seven pounds after cutting out soda, as my workouts have gotten more effective.

Since cutting out soda, I've seen two documentaries that made me even happier to have given it up. Both Food, Inc. and King Corn touch briefly on how awful consuming it can be. In the former, an impovershed family laments how cheap soda can be while fruit and vegetables cost more. They realize it's making them unhealthy but their meager budget only allows them to buy so much and soda can be filling. In the latter, a formerly obese man in NYC shows a picture revealing how much he used to weigh. He attributed a loss of one hundred pounds just to giving up a certain soft drink.

Governor David Paterson (D-NY) was ridiculed for proposing a tax on soda last December, and the plan was met with much opposition. It never panned out and his low approval ratings made it even unlikelier to pass. President Obama toyed with the idea recently but nothing's come of it. It's hard to understand why this wouldn't be an easy sell. Making soda more expensive is not a silver bullet to solving the obesity crisis facing this country, but it could go a long way towards helping the problem. Politicians have no problems with sin taxes on cigarettes or alcohol, but we're not there yet with carbonated beverages. It's not even banned from all schools yet, which should be a given. Los Angeles backed off a soda ban in schools due to economic pressure just last month (check out the ignorant quote from Mr. Finch). Americans already consume more soda than any other country so weaning people off of it and giving them incentive to think healthier could reap untold benefits beyond one's health. Selling fewer plastic bottles could help the environment in addition to our diets.

After the first week without caffeine, it was easy to kick my soda habit. I crave it a bit every now and then, but I don't plan on buying any. It looks like I'll be giving something else up for Lent next month. If anyone else out there has a similar problem with their vice, take heart. If I can kick my habit after drinking upwards of 200 ounces of soda a week, anything is possible. The only prescription this doctor fills now is for H2O!

New Beginnings

As 2010 had been fast approaching I spent some time reflecting on 2009. Despite all the national trials and tribulations, it was personally a good year! I reconnected with an old friend, traveled to Basel and Rome with family/friends, took up baking (hello, cupcakes!), and met some inspiring people along the way. Over the past year I have been most thankful for good health and great friends; I have felt fortunate to be able to combine the two here at HHJ. Melinda and Olivia recently shared their stories on food and living abroad ("What the World Eats"/"VitaMix Love"). And now it's time to hear from my friend Ed, who was first featured in the post "Getting Off on the Right Foot." His story is inspiring and timely for those of us with health-centered New Years resolutions. Take it away, Ed!