Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

June 27, 2017

Keep Track

If we want to know what we’re really consuming each day, we have to keep track. If we really want to know whether we’re feeling more pain, more anxiety, or more fatigue, we have to keep track. If we hope to focus on experiences that create feelings of happiness, peace, gratitude, accomplishment, and joy, we have to keep track.

At some point when you’ve expressed a desire to improve some area of your life, you’ve probably been instructed by a friend or professional to keep a journal of what you eat or what you dream or how much pain you feel. You may have ignored these instructions. At times, I have too. It sounds like a lot of time and effort and I already have plenty to do. What’s the point?
box list
There are many reasons to keep a contemporaneous record…

If you’ve ever kept a weight-loss journal, you’ve probably surprised yourself. What you thought you ate each day and what you wrote down when you began keeping track may have been significantly different. You also may have noticed that your records were more accurate when you made them immediately following a meal rather than when you tried to reconstruct all of your meals at the end of the day.

If you try to remember Monday’s breakfast in exact detail on the following Monday, it is nearly impossible to do so accurately. It is the same with any memory. As time goes on, the details of an experience become more vague and less accurate. Recording what happens contemporaneously is a great reality check.

In the middle of any difficult situation, it’s hard to step back enough to gain perspective. Writing down what happens each day and how we feel about it gives us the opportunity to review later when things have calmed down. This can lead to valuable insights that would otherwise be lost. 

Over time, a written record may reveal significant patterns related to health – pain levels, hormone changes, symptoms of inflammation, sleep patterns, blood pressure, response to foods, response to medications, or a myriad of other health related patterns. Presenting our documentation to the doctor can help her with our diagnosis and an appropriate treatment plan.

A journal can also reveal patterns of behavior in our relationships, jobs, and self-care routines. It can show us how we respond when we feel dismissed, defensive, afraid, or overwhelmed. This is powerful knowledge! While we may not see these patterns as we go about living our lives, having them revealed gives us the opportunity to make informed choices. I can’t think of anything more powerful than informed choice.

We can’t control the curve balls life will throw us. We may suffer an accident or health crisis or loss of our home in a natural disaster. We may suffer abuse or neglect from our parents. We may lose our jobs because a coworker lies about us. The greatest power we have in these situations is the choice we make about how we will allow these events to affect our lives in the long term.

Until we recognize any lingering pattern of behavior that helped at a difficult time, appreciate and acknowledge both the positive assistance and coinciding limits that pattern creates, we cannot make this choice because we don’t see a choice. That makes the journal an immensely powerful tool for improvement in all areas of our lives.

When we are exposed to something over and over again, we develop the ability to tune it out and tolerate more of that stimuli. For instance, if you move to a new city with lots of traffic noise during sleeping hours, you will eventually become desensitized to the noise and be able to sleep. If the level of noise increases slowly over time, it is unlikely that your sleep will be disturbed.

The same is true with gradual increases in pain, fatigue, and general malaise. Our bodies get accustomed to the discomfort and a gradual increase may not register. We tolerate symptoms that would have been clear warning signs if their onset had been acute. Recording details daily and reviewing once a month can help you give your doctor a more accurate view of changes in your condition.

In order to compose a journal entry, you must shift your focus to the subject you’re recording. If you keep a dream journal, your focus will be dreams. If you keep a gratitude journal, your focus will be on things for which you feel grateful. If you keep a pain journal, your focus will be on recording the specifics of your pain.

When we focus our attention on something, other things shift and typically our focus begins to define how we feel. Focusing only on pain can easily lead to feeling helpless, depressed, or discouraged. Because of this tendency, I like to keep balance in my records. If I keep a record of pain, then I like to simultaneously keep a record of accomplishments and things that make me feel good. The two-to-one ratio of things that feel good to things that feel bad ensures that I don’t become absorbed by pain.

In order to see all 3 categories at once, I use a colorful plastic box and a tiny notepad. (There it is in the graphic above. Isn’t it cute? Cuteness makes me feel good.) Each evening, I make 3 lists on separate pieces of paper identified by category, then sit them out side by side. Once I’ve seen the lists together, I put them back in the box until the end of the month. At that point, I review.

I recently used Accomplishments, Things That Made Me Feel Good, and Insights as journal categories for a month. I was struggling. I felt so behind that I had lost any sense of accomplishment. The events that put me behind were also making me feel discouraged.

I decided I would record the tasks I completed so that I could gain perspective. At the same time, I’d record anything that made me feel good so that I could deliberately increase those things and thereby increase how often I felt good. Along the way, I knew I’d have a few revelations.

At the end of the month, I felt better even before reviewing the lists. Recording my accomplishments had already given me a realistic view that I was behind because I had too much on my plate, not because I was being inefficient, lazy, or incompetent. Knowing that meant I could direct my energy toward setting better boundaries and reducing my task list. The shift from only seeing the problem to also seeing possible solutions felt positive, optimistic, and freeing.

Catalyst for Change
If a shift from seeing a problem to seeing solutions feels positive, optimistic, and freeing, why are so many of us averse to change? Fearful habits often keep us stuck in miserable places. We may not register a feeling of fear. We may feel the anticipation of another’s disappointment, shunning, cruelty, or displeasure with us if we buck the system, but we express this as family obligation, work ethic, being considerate, or being conscientious. Sometimes we may even call it love.

We may feel reluctance to challenge a belief that we’re not worthy of good things…what if we find out we’re not? We may be sensitized to emotional danger in a way that makes us hyper-vigilantly avoid rocking the boat at home, at work, or with our friends. No matter how we label these fears, our commitment to them prevents us from embracing change.

Keeping a journal, can be an effective catalyst for change. It’s much harder to deny or ignore how we feel if we’ve recorded those feelings when we experience them. By writing events down, we preserve an accurate record for later reference. And using a journal or a box full of lists to focus our attention differently can make it easier to see solutions to long-standing problems.

They say that if we don’t learn from history, we’re doomed to repeat it. I’d rather keep track now so that I have more options later. How about you?

June 6, 2017

Five Rainy Day Comfort Foods

With wave after wave of rain falling this year, I want some rainy day comfort food on hand. What’s rainy day comfort food? That’s today’s exploration.
When I look outside and see a wall of clouds and soaking drizzle, I don’t immediately think ahhh I want a grilled steak. I don’t feel much like eating a salad either. A baked potato, on the other hand, sounds good. Macaroni and cheese sounds even better. Cozy, comforting food preferences seem to accompany gloomy days. But when heat and rain arrive together, my snuggly, comfort food preferences are slightly different than during a winter snow storm.

So, what are my top five comfort food choices for rainy summer days?

Grilled cheese and tomato juice
While hot soup may not sound good on a warm day, a grilled sandwich can still be appealing. In the summer, I like to top gluten-free grilled cheese with spinach or arugula & pair it with cold tomato juice instead of hot tomato soup. A Reuben sandwich also entices on a rainy day, but I rarely have the ingredients available. That means it doesn’t make the list of staples I reach for when rain is in the forecast.

B,L,T and kohlrabi pickles
Another comforting sandwich is bacon and tomato. My grandmother offered these with perfectly crisp bacon, homegrown tomatoes, and a little mayonnaise. She never bothered with lettuce. Bacon, tomato, & lettuce or avocado on toasted gluten-free bread leaves my mouth watering just typing the words. Kohlrabi pickles from the fridge served alongside add the perfect bright spot on a dreary day.
Mashed potatoes with chives
Sometimes I reach for potatoes on a rainy June day. Even though potato salad might be the expected summer preparation, I choose mashed potatoes and leave them a little chunky. Flavored with butter, a couple of tablespoons of half and half, and chives, there’s no need for the added heaviness of gravy.

Pasta with Parmesan
I always keep a package of gluten-free pasta in the pantry. While it’s cooking according to the package directions, I melt a tbsp or two of butter in a skillet or sauté pan. Then I add 1/2 to 2/3 cup of milk, half and half, or cream. I just use whatever I have handy. Once the sauce is warm and begins to bubble, I sprinkle it with garlic powder, salt, coarse black pepper, and add shredded or grated Parmesan. When it’s done, I drain the pasta and stir it into the sauce. The whole process takes less than 15 minutes and the cheesy goodness wraps your insides in comfort.

To make this dish an entrée, I add frozen English peas to the pasta during the last 5 minutes of cooking, then drain and add them to the sauce along with the pasta. If I have leftover chicken, I chop or shred it and warm it in the sauce as well. Chicken, peas, pasta, and cheese makes a complete, satisfying meal.

Ice cream, frozen yogurt, or gelato
I love ice cream any time of year, but I could live on it in the summer when it’s 114 outside and I’m afraid my tires will melt driving down the highway. Even on a rainy day, ice cream makes me feel happy. Sometimes the selection in my freezer leaves me choosing from frozen yogurt bars or black raspberry and chocolate chip gelato. That’s not a bad thing. They’re definitely cold, sweet, delicious little rays of sunshine shewing the dark clouds away.

Those are today’s five winners!

You may have other rainy day favorites – chicken and rice, Pizza Margherita, movie popcorn, or a frozen candy bar. On years like this one, it’s good to keep a few favorites on hand cause the rain keeps popping up, or more appropriately stated – pouring down, in spite of the forecast.

Maybe after our ice cream, we’ll see a rainbow! That sounds delicious.

March 21, 2017

Treating Depression with Diet

Will the medical community begin treating depression with diet? Of course, I hope so. At Cooking2Thrive, we support healthy diet and exercise as a first step in treating and preventing any disease. If that first line of treatment works, there’s no need for the introduction of chemical medications that may have numerous adverse side effects. The use of diet and exercise first also reduces the cost of medical care. Finally, science has begun controlled trials that can show whether diet is effective treatment for specific conditions.
Diet as effective as drugs?

We know that exercise can be as effective as drugs for some conditions. How we fuel our cells is bound to affect how they perform, so in some ways this result doesn’t seem all that surprising. But don’t get too excited yet. One promising study doesn’t mean there will be any immediate change in protocol in psychiatric medicine.

For one thing, this study was small and small may or may not reflect the results you would find in a larger group. Before the medical approach changes, there will need to be larger studies that repeat this result.
It’s food, not drugs.

The good news is that this improvement was driven by food, not drugs. If you suffer from depression, it may be possible to improve your outlook by changing your diet on your own. Do not take this as a license to discontinue any medication you are currently taking without consulting your physician. Some antidepressants must be tapered down in order to avoid adverse reactions. Instead, work with your physician or therapist to revise your treatment plan to include nutritional counseling and dietary change.
In the SMILES study mentioned above, the experimental group received dietary advice and nutritional counseling that included goal setting and mindful eating. The specific dietary recommendations were:
5-8 servings per day of whole grains
6 vegetable servings per day
3 fruit servings per day
3-4 legume servings per week
2-3 servings per day of low-fat and unsweetened dairy foods
1 serving per day of raw and unsalted nuts
At least 2 servings per week of fish
3-4 servings per week lean red meat
2-3 servings per week chicken
Up to 6 eggs per week
3 tbsp per day olive oil
Up to two glasses of wine per day only with meals. Red wine preferred.

In addition, participants were encouraged to reduce intake of sweets, refined cereals, fried food, fast-food, processed meats and sugary drinks, and any alcohol beyond two glasses of wine per day with a meal.

As you can see, there’s nothing radical here. The experimental group was simply consuming the kind of healthy diet that benefits all of us.
I know I told you not to get too excited, but if the results of this study hold true, the news is incredibly exciting!!!

According to the CDC, 3% of Americans (more than 9 million) over the age of 12 had severe depressive symptoms in 2012. Almost 43% of those reported serious difficulties at home, at work, and socially. Of that 43%, only 35% reported having contact with a mental health professional during the past year and those living below the poverty level were 2.5 times more likely to have depression than those above the poverty level. Dietary support can be a powerful way to help the approximately 1.4 million severely depressed people who do not have a mental health professional.

Dietary support and change can also improve the mood and resilience of those who suffer from diabetes, IBS, celiac disease, heart disease, fatigue, reflux, and eczema. All we have to do is overcome our resistance to change.

Okay, I know that’s a big obstacle. And that…is the challenge.

November 29, 2016

When You Least Feel Like a Party is When You Need One

tableWhen you least feel like a party is when you need one most. I’m tired. My sons are worn out. The holidays are here with family expectations to fill. Sounds like a nightmare! So what am I doing? Planning a party. Have I lost my mind? Maybe, but here’s what I’m thinking…

It’s been an unusual year. I lost my mother. With that my sister & I inherited 3 tenants and numerous properties to clean up and oversee. I inherited my 96-year-old cousin’s care. Soon after, she broke her leg. She’s been to the hospital, rehab, temporary long-term care, rehab, and now to permanent long-term care. Add her house to the properties I’m maintaining — all of which are 3 hours away from where I live.

My ex-husband lost his mother. My kids lost two grandmothers. One son got married 1700 miles away just a month after the other had a baby. I had to be at each place for each event. One son starts finals today for his 5th semester in law school. The other one is working 18 hours a day to please some difficult clients.

I’ve traveled many times, accommodated extended family, sorted boxes of papers, dealt with appraisers, lawyers, and bankers, gathered information for 4 tax returns, and now keep my 4-month-old grandson two to three days a week. Oh, and I work.

Blah, blah, blah. The point is, we’re all stretched so thin physically, intellectually, and emotionally, we’re not much help to each other. In order to keep our sanity, we all have to be focused on self-care and being patient with each other. I won’t say it’s easy. I certainly won’t say it’s fun.

Which brings me back to the party planning. In my previous job, I had lots of people contact. In my current job, I have very little. Most of my people time is spent with the helpless. While I’m not a full-time care giver, I am experiencing some of the isolation that can result from overwhelming obligations at home. I recognize that I need more lighthearted moments, more joy, more fun!

I am not alone. In the US, about 43.5 million people have provided unpaid care to a child or adult in the past 12 months. About 75% of those are women. Unpaid caregivers report that positive activities in their daily lives are reduced by 27.2% as a result of caregiving activities.(1) And the truth is, when you’re emotionally and physically exhausted, it’s harder to enjoy anything.

I have no patience left for immature or selfish behavior. I don’t even have the energy to get mad about it. It just reduces me to tears which makes it even harder to socialize. I feel like I have to have my guard up or I might start crying. I have plenty of tears. I hold them in when I’m encouraging my cousin to overcome her fear and try to stand. I hold them in when the long-term care facility staff tries to push me into changing doctors. I hold them in when the facility staff can’t find the time to call me when the doctor’s orders change, but can call and email me repeatedly over internal staff gossip. I hold them in when we have to remain on the waiting list at a better facility for months and months.

Aware of the sheer number of tasks I must accomplish and the stress they bring, I regularly prioritize eating healthy, exercise, and rest. I recognize I must or I’ll be consumed by the weight of the responsibilities. What I haven’t done as well is spend time with people who renew me. While it may be lumping them altogether, a party seems like a good way to spend some time with my friends and have some fun. With a little planning, I think I can pull off an event that leaves me more energized than exhausted.

First, I’m carefully choosing the participants. I only want to invite people with whom I feel I can be myself. I am including those who leave me feeling upbeat. I am leaving for another time, friends who require emotional support themselves, special treatment to avoid offending them, and anyone who leaves me feeling drained for any reason. I’m not hesitating to include people I don’t know well, but who I feel good about. This can help me expand my circle of support.

Second, I’m partnering with some friends. My house is filled with baby stuff and I don’t have time to decorate for the holidays. A friend has agreed to host at her house. That eliminates clean-up and decorating time for me! The other friend travels for work, so she can run by the liquor store and provide drinks. Both are inviting their friends. I have an opportunity to meet new people who may turn out to be new friends.

Third, we’re throwing this together the week of the party. That means no time to build it up in my mind into something big. It also means I’m texting the invitations and not worrying about who can or can’t show up.

Fourth, I’m choosing food I can prepare in advance over a period of days. With one friend hosting and another bringing the drinks, much of the food falls to me. I’m keeping it simple. Party mix, sausage balls, and individual panna cotta topped with leftover cranberry/orange relish. I have milk and cream left from Thanksgiving so this is a great chance to use it.

I can supplement with a relish tray, some Wholly Guacamole with chips, and fresh veggies with hummus purchased from the store. Since I’ll be providing the food, I know there are plenty of gluten-free choices. That means I don’t have to worry about pre-eating or carrying food for me in my purse.

Finally, I intend to be mindful and present at the party. I want to fully experience the friends who show up. And, I intend to be open to receiving. If someone compliments me, I will take a moment to feel and appreciate the compliment. If someone offers assistance, help, or relief, I will accept it. If something is funny, I’ll laugh. I will not make anyone else’s enjoyment my responsibility. I will express appreciation to those I appreciate.

Yes, it can feel like a stretch for me to plan a frivolous event right now, but I know it’s important to my long-term mental and physical health and my family isn’t available to help at the moment. If I can shoulder the care of helpless relatives, I can undertake some self-care on my own behalf. It is not selfish. It is necessary.

If you have a caregiver in your family, please give them a break this holiday season. Don’t complain if the house isn’t decorated, a large meal isn’t planned, your present isn’t exactly what you wanted, or if they don’t want (or do want) to discuss how things are going at the dinner table.

Instead, do the dishes, take a shift with the person for whom they care, express appreciation even if it’s just for the effort it took to get you a gift and wrap it, invite them to a party or, better yet, plan a party for them ’cause when they least feel like a party is when they need one most.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”