Food | The Holisticates

 

foodWith flu and cold viruses circulating everywhere, it is helpful to know how to keep your family’s immune system strong. As an herbalist, I’m often asked what herbs and supplements I use for my family. I love using elderberry to boost the immune system. I always keep a stock of elderberry tincture at home to have on hand the moment anyone in my family starts to feel unwell.

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is the bluish-black or red berry of the “elder” bush as shown in the picture. Historically, elderberry has been used for making jelly or wine. Elderberry tincture or syrup is a staple when flu season hits. It is the go-to herb as a remedy for viral infections like the flu and common cold.  In my experience, when taken at the first sign of an infection, elderberry will prevent the illness from worsening and taken at any time will reduce the length of time you suffer from a cold or flu.

What The Experts Say 

As Stephen Harrod Buhner states in his book, Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging and Resistant Viral Infections, “The plants are also very high in flavonoids that have been found to bind to H1N1 virions, inactivating them. Once the viruses are bound, they can’t infect host cells. Elder flavonoids have a very strong affinity for influenza viruses, somewhat like a magnet and iron filings.”

Easy Peasy Elderberry Tincture 

Making an Elderberry tincture is so easy too.  I always have a quart in process, just in case, and my husband and I take a spoonful every morning. I have always used fresh elderberries grown on my bushes near my home, but if you don’t have access to fresh berries, you can order dried elderberries online. Recently, city workers in my town chopped my bushes down because they had gotten big enough to hang over into the easement of the alley and I was quite devastated, but I’ve found that dried or fresh, this tincture works very well.

Simple Elderberry Tincture 

  1. Into a clean Quart Jar add 1/4 pound dried elderberries (must be Sambucus nigra).
  2. Fill to top with vodka. (You can also use apple cider vinegar if you would prefer, but I use vodka).
  3. Put the lid on tight and store in a dark cupboard and shake once every few days. Label and date your jar.
  4. Let the jar sit for at least 30 days then strain out the berries and store your tincture in a dark place.
  5. If you want to let it sit longer than 30 days that will only make it stronger and better. I often let my jars sit for up to 3 months.
  6. Take as a preventative – Adult – 1 teaspoon in water once a day.

Once you get the hang of the recipe and you see the benefits of taking the Elderberry tincture regularly, or as needed, you will feel the empowerment that comes with caring for yourself and your family with natural herbs and remedies. It can be quite rewarding when you see and feel your own body heal from the materials that come from nature or your own back yard.

Enjoy!

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: None of the health topics presented on our site have been evaluated or approved by the FDA. They should not replace personal judgment nor medical treatment when indicated, nor are they intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Always talk to your naturopathic physician about the use of these or any other complimentary modalities. Reading this website denotes your understanding and agreement to our full disclaimer.

Making your own nut milk at home can be an empowering step toward health and well-being for you and your family.

Commercial nut milk and dairy-free alternatives can be overpriced and are often full of additives. For those of us that need to avoid common gut irritants, like guar gum and carrageenan, using store-bought nut milk is not an option.

Plus, it’s easy and fun! All you need is a blender and some cheesecloth or a nut milk bag to create healthy, dairy-free milk alternatives.

Almond Milk

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Yield: 1 quart

Ingredients:

1 cup of raw almonds

8 cups filtered water, divided

1/4 teaspoon sea salt, divided

1 small date, pitted

Method:

  1. Place almonds in a bowl with 4 cups of filtered water and 1/8 teaspoon of the salt and soak for 10 hours or overnight.
  2. Drain the nuts and rinse well. transfer them to a blender and fill with 4 cups filtered water. Add the date and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt and blend until smooth.
  3. Strain the milk through a fine-mesh sieve, a nut milk bag, or doubled cheesecloth. Squeeze to remove all of the liquid. Store in the refrigerator for 5 days.

A few tips 

  • I use a Vitamix Pro 7500, but any blender will do.
  • Cheesecloth can work great, but I use a nut milk bag. You can order the bag I use on Amazon.
  • You can also make cashew, hazelnut or brazil nut milk. Soak cashews for 4 hours. Hazelnuts and brazil nuts don’t need to be soaked, because they don’t contain the enzyme inhibitors that prevent nuts from being digested properly- so you can make milk from those nuts at the drop of a hat.
  • Many of us are concerned about the water shortage in California, and thus want to limit our purchase of Almonds. If so, cashews are a fabulous alternative. My husband prefers cashew milk and I tend to make it more often as the nuts are soaked for less time and less pulp is produced.
  • There are many uses for the leftover almond pulp, so be sure to save it and look for recipes online!

We love these muffins and after making them for our family to “grab and go” for the holidays we wanted to share them with you. They are a great breakfast for busy mornings and they’re so delicious you will want to grab two or three for those break times throughout the day.

Paleo & Grain- Free

Paleo is a huge nutrition buzzword recently. We don’t use the term a lot, because we don’t want to focus on diet labels, but it’s a really good representation of grain-free, gluten-free and refined sugar-free foods that are super yummy and healthy.

Super Healthy Ingredients

These super yummy muffins have no flour, just almonds ground into almond meal, making them grain-free and inherently gluten-free. This means they are also incredibly high in protein. Even though they have no grains they do have a true muffin consistency that we love.  They are sweetened with dates and raw honey and they offer an Omega-3 boost from the walnuts. Also with the carrots, bananas and coconut they are very nutrient-dense!

A Few Tips

The raw honey is optional if you have a sensitivity or like your muffins less sweet. We tried them both ways, and though they are less sweet without the honey, the dates still sweeten them up and they were still fabulous. We lined the muffin tins with paper liners instead of using the canola oil, but you could also use coconut oil or ghee if you have a preference.

Super Yummy Paleo Carrot-Banana Muffins

Check out the original recipe from Dr. Andrew Weil’s book, True Food.

Makes 12 large muffins

2 cups almond flour (also called almond meal)

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

3 large eggs

3 bananas, mashed

1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter or ghee, softened

2 tablespoons raw honey, optional

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1 1/4 cups pitted and chopped dates

2 medium carrots, shredded

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and lightly oil a 12 cup muffin pan with expeller-pressed canola oil or line with paper liners.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the almond flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and coconut. In another bowl whisk the eggs, bananas, butter, honey, and vinegar.  Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.  Fold in the dates, carrots, and walnuts. Divide the batter among the muffin cups.
  3. Bake for 40 minutes, until golden brown or a skewer inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.  (Since there is no actual flour, the muffins will not rise significantly.)  Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then turn out the muffins onto the rack and let cool to warm or room temperature.

Enjoy!

In our fast-paced culture and with our busy lives, it’s helpful to have healthy snacks on hand at all times in case you find yourself in a pinch. Though you can find various forms of snacks or treats at most gas stations and grocery stores, they are not all created equal, and eating many of them may leave you feeling worse than you did before.

As a Health Coach, I’m often asked for recommendations of healthy snacks for when we are on the go. Surprisingly, even health food stores have very few snack bar options that aren’t loaded with added sugar, gluten, soy, and other preservatives.

Here are a few of my recommendations:

#1 Make your own trail mix

Make your own trail mix at home and carry some in your bag, purse or car at all times. I order all of the below ingredients in bulk from Amazon Prime. Mix the below together in a bowl and divide the portions into baggies and then you are good to go!

Angela’s Homemade Trail Mix

1 cup Raw, Organic Cashews

1 cup Raw, Organic Almonds

¼ cup Raw, Organic Sunflower Seeds

¼ cup Raw, Organic Goji Berries

#2 Raw Crunch Bar- Blueberry + Lemon

This bar is handmade, gluten-free and only has 5g of sugar. My favorite flavor is the Blueberry + Lemon and I order them from Amazon Prime. This bar is pictured above.

#3 USANA Berry Nutty Nutrition Bar

The Berry Nutty Nutrition Bar from my product partner, USANA Health Sciences, Inc, are hands-down the best tasting nutrition bars I have ever tried. My husband is obsessed with them! The Berry Nutty Bar is a whole foods nutrition bar sourced from non-GMO raw almonds, cashews, oats and other whole foods. They are gluten-free and have only 9g of sugar. You can order them from USANA here. Click “Shop” and then choose “Diet and Energy.”

#4 Artisana Organics Raw Almond Butter 

I’ve tried all of the raw almond butter on the market and this one wins in taste. I order it here from Amazon Prime. This almond butter is great on celery or with carrot sticks, but if you are on the go, buy the travel size packets (as pictured above) and eat them as is. One note of caution: if you do have a sluggish digestive system, too much nut butter does not help, so remember: all things in moderation.

Health Coach Pep Talk 

Remember, these are considered treats and I do not eat them every day or in large quantities at a time. They are not meant to replace whole foods or home-cooked meals, but are very helpful options for you when there are limited healthy options around. If you grab one of these instead of a snickers bar when you are on the go then I’d call that a win! You got this!

My Sugar-Free Journey

Twenty-six years ago (yes, 26, I can’t believe it has been that long) I was a stay at home Mom with four children, two of which were under 5. I had no energy, felt drained all the time and all I wanted to eat was sweets. I thought that this was normal- what Mom with two kids under 5 doesn’t feel tired and drained? Yet, when I started falling asleep holding my baby and not waking up for two hours, (luckily she was asleep too) I decided something was wrong. And there was! I was hypoglycemic. When I ate sugar my blood glucose went up for maybe a minute, but then it dropped like a rock and often I passed out or fell asleep. Thus started my journey with eating sugar-free.

Sugar-Free Before it was Hip

Twenty-six years ago most people weren’t as sugar conscious as they are today. It was difficult to find any sugar-free or no sugar added recipes. So I started experimenting and substituting sweet recipes for no sugar added recipes that tasted good.  Some were a bust, like my no sugar added pecan pie. Bleck! Yet, I kept trying and now have many sugar-free recipes that taste so good most people can’t tell the difference.  I can now say that I haven’t eaten refined sugar (other than the small amount in catsup and mayonnaise) in more than twenty years.

Health Benefits

Eating sugar-free does not mean boring food.  It wasn’t easy at first, but within a year I had learned how to satisfy my sweet tooth without sugar.  Many times the sugar-free recipes had more flavor than those with added refined sugar. The best thing about following a sugar-free diet is that it makes you feel so incredibly great. It’s not until you take the plunge and do it that you realize how crappy you really felt while you were eating refined sugar. Once you rid your diet of refined sugar, you often have increased energy, better sleep, and better brain functioning. Many people lose weight and overall just feel so much better!

My Favorite Recipes

After seeing that I didn’t have to feel drained and lethargic all the time I no longer wanted to eat sugar, but I still wanted to satisfy my sweet tooth so I created lots of my favorite recipes. I have found and developed many sweet recipes that have no refined sugar added, using fruit juices, agave nectar, stevia, and coconut nectar.

Sugar-Free Chocolate Candy

¼ cup coconut oil

¼ cup cocoa powder

2 tbsp. agave.

nuts or raisins (optional)

The recipe and step by step instructions can be found here, at sweetsmarts.com, one of my favorite sugar-free recipe sites.

Kim’s Sugar-Free Apple Pie

1 frozen pastry for a 9-inch double-crust deep-dish pie 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 9 apples – peeled, cored and sliced 1 tablespoon lemon juice 3 tablespoons real butter 1/2 can freeze apple juice concentrate thawed

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

In a large bowl mix together flour, salt, and cinnamon. Sprinkle lemon juice over apples and lightly toss. Add apples and lemon juice mixture to the flour mixture and toss until apples are thoroughly coated. Pour apples into pastry-lined pie plate. Put thin slices of butter on top of the apples. Pour apple juice concentrate over apples and Cover with top pastry. Seal edges and cut steam vents in top pastry.

Bake in preheated oven for 45 to 60 minutes, until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly.

This is a favorite that my whole family loves. Often I find that everyone is eating my sugar-free pie at family gatherings instead of all the other pies because it’s just that good. Few people can tell it has no added refined sugar and I’m often told it tastes better than refined sugar apple pie.  If it’s not sweet enough for you, drizzle 1/4 cup of agave nectar over the apples before adding the top crust.

Give these recipes a try and let us know what you think. Most of all, remember that avoiding refined sugar does not mean that you don’t get to have sweets. It just provides an opportunity to be creative and find healthier versions of your favorites. Good Luck! Enjoy!

Corporate life and frequent travel can make it really difficult for those of us who want to be healthy. It can be challenging for those of us with food allergies and sensitivities to take care of ourselves while on the road.

As a former road warrior and sales executive, I continually refined my skills for eating well while traveling. Healthy eating can be a commitment of its’ own, but, as in my case, avoiding dairy, gluten, and grains, processed sugars, and legumes while traveling is an art that requires planning, preparation, creativity, and flexibility. My health journey over the years has involved following a vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and paleo diet. Currently, a strict grain-free, plant-based paleo diet helps me feel well and balanced. Following your own nutrition needs while on the road can be done. Here are a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way.

Planning & Preparation

Set Your Intention

As we are all unique individuals, our bodies have different requirements. Learn about yourself and explore what works for your body. Maybe you need to follow a strict grain-free or paleo diet (avoiding legumes, dairy, processed sugars and all grains) diet while on the road or maybe you just need to avoid excess alcohol or sugar. Many people feel better avoiding gluten entirely, but do not need to avoid all grains. Others can allow some gluten, but only a few times a week. It may take some trial and error to figure out what works for you. I recommend you set your intention and goal for your “diet style” before you travel so that you do not have to make a game-time decision that may be stressful.

 Do Your Research

Research the restaurants and grocery stores in the area that provide meals that fit your needs. I always research restaurants in the area that provide gluten-free or grain-free options prior to my trip. I find Yelp to be of great help to do so. Take a look at the menu. If you are like me, everyone you travel with knows that you have diet restrictions and often turns to you when deciding where to dine out. It will help immensely to have a few ideas in your back pocket in case you get asked this question. If restaurant options are looking slim, look for a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods near your hotel and map out the location. Call your hotel and discuss your options: Can they provide a microwave and/or refrigerator in your room so you can keep snacks or other foods you buy at the store? Do they offer room service and does it provide grain-free or gluten-free options? Ask for the menu prior to your arrival.

Plan Your Agenda

Once you have identified your resources and options you can outline what will work for you on each specific trip. For example, if possible, I would choose a hotel that provided a refrigerator and be close to a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s in case I was not able to eat at the restaurant my client or colleagues chose. I would plan my calendar and flight itinerary in a way to make time to go to the store before the conference or meetings began. At times, this required flying into a city the day before an event. If I was traveling to an area without a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s I was usually able to talk to the hotel and determine some in-room dining options that I could work with.

Creativity & Flexibility

Pack Snacks

Traveling requires a lot of creativity and flexibility, especially when you are in a sales role and busy with clients. Often you are not able to control where you eat when you eat and you do not have time to go to a grocery store, even if there is one. For this reason, I recommend packing various snacks that will help you out while on the road and at the airport. I usually packed a variety of the following depending on the length of the trip:

Sweet potato chips

Raw unsweetened almond butter (travel size packets)

Raw almonds

Raw cashews

Fruit leather

Protein bars (gluten or grain-free)

Dark chocolate

Beef jerky

Organic baby food (travel pouch)

**I will be outlining the specific brands of Paleo and grain-free snacks that I like to buy in a future post.

At the Airport

I found the airport to be the most challenging situation while on the road. I know there are a few airports that are starting to have “healthier” options, but these often are still quite limiting for those of us following a grain-free diet. Most of the time I would stick to the snacks I packed with me while at the airport and try my best to manage my schedule so I was not starving once I got there. Otherwise, look for a deli and see if they can wrap their turkey wrap in lettuce or look for a more upscale restaurant and request a bun-less burger with no cheese (add avocado and tomato) and a side of steamed veggies.

Just In Case

Regardless of the amount of planning and preparation you may still come into contact with gluten or grains, especially if you are dining at restaurants often. Pack digestive enzymes that specifically break down gluten proteins (and casein if you are sensitive or intolerant) and take the recommended amount with each meal. You can find a few good brands on Amazon. I would also pack probiotics and various other herbs and supplements that would help keep my immune system in balance while on the road and eating differently than I would at home.

There is a lot of hype right now about the Paleo diet and eating Grain-Free. In my experience, most people fall into 1 of 2 categories when deciding to make this lifestyle and diet choice: They are either required to do so either short-term or long-term based on a food allergy, sensitivity, intolerance or chronic illness; OR they are doing so for general wellness or as a short term health challenge.

I fall into the former category and it has been quite a process to get where I am today. Despite living a healthy lifestyle for years, including avoiding dairy and processed sugars, and following vegan and vegetarian diets, I experienced chronic gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort, urinary tract infections, Candida imbalance, and sinus infections. I also experienced unexplained bouts of depression, anxiety, and intense fatigue that were rarely representative of my situation. Medications made things worse or cause side effects and supplements helped, but did not provide substantial relief. My symptoms often stumped my doctors and I realized I needed to look to my lifestyle and diet to heal myself regardless of a diagnosis.

Going Gluten-Free

Luckily, in 2012, I was advised by a holistic D.O. to get tested for gluten intolerance and discovered I have non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). This changed my world and I quickly turned my lifestyle upside down to suit my new diet. I have always been willing to change my lifestyle drastically if my health or wellness is on the line, so I was all in. In addition, I was highly motivated to make any changes necessary to prevent future illness or disease as earlier that same year I witnessed my Aunt pass away, at an early age, from an advanced Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST).

I quickly researched what I needed at home to cook properly and the healthiest, and trendy, local restaurants that suited my new diet. I found eating gluten-free to be only mildly inconvenient as I was already a self-proclaimed “health nut” and, as I was already avoiding sugar, dairy, and most alcohol, I was used to living with food allergies and sensitivities. With the help of online resources, within 3 weeks of my gluten sensitivity diagnosis, I managed to pull off a Thanksgiving meal for my husband’s family entirely gluten-free.

Getting Off Grains

I maintained my strict gluten-free diet, and even monitored any possible cross-contamination at restaurants, for 2 years. I experienced significant improvement in all of my symptoms, yet I still was not completely well. At the recommendation of a helpful Traditional Chinese Doctor and Acupuncturist, I had additional tests performed to look for cross-reactivity of gluten, a potential culprit for someone with a gluten sensitivity who is avoiding gluten 100% and still experiencing imbalance.

These tests revealed that my body was still “thinking” it was getting gluten and treating non-gluten proteins found in foods, such as teff, tapioca, amaranth, and sesame as if they contained gluten. My body was creating an auto-immune response any time I was ingesting these foods. As you may know, a gluten-free diet still may consist of a substantial amount of bread, pasta, and cereals that use these types of foods. Based on this new information, for the next 6 months, I focused on eliminating all grains and reactive foods from my diet. In addition, I decided to eliminate corn and rice from my diet as many people experience cross-reactivity from these, though they did not show up as reactive on my tests. I was not surprised to find that when I ate rice and corn, even in small amounts, I felt bloated and, at times, experienced headaches. Going off of grains was a lot more difficult of a lifestyle choice than being gluten-free, but I felt better right away. The inconvenience I experienced soon paled in comparison to how much better I felt.

Full On Paleo

After 6 months of eating grain-free, I started to get more in touch with my body and what it “should” feel like. I sensed that, though I was on the right track, I still occasionally experienced GI symptoms that did not make sense and were not normally based on my extremely healthy diet. After further research and experimenting with different foods and how I felt, I narrowed down the issue to legumes. Specifically, I eliminated peas, peanuts, and all beans from my diet. Legumes are often gut irritants, especially for someone who has a history of gut imbalance. Eliminating legumes from my diet further improved my gut health, and though I am not allergic to them, I want to feel balanced in my gut more than I want to eat them. It was around this time that I realized I had slowly transitioned myself to the Paleo diet and that I may be one of the few people who did not intentionally one day say “I’m going to try this Paleo thing.” My diet just ended up fitting the Paleo definition! For the past 5 months, I have been living a strict Paleo lifestyle and, though it is a daily journey, I feel better than I have in years.

It’s Not All About Diet

What I have learned is that, though diet and nutrition are very important, it is not the only game in town. I have spent a significant amount of time researching and experimenting with various supplements and nutrients that match my unique body and my dietary lifestyle. I try to keep supplementation to a minimum and rely mostly on real food for my nutrition, but, as someone with anemia and a B-12 deficiency, there are some things that your diet cannot fix on its’ own. This is especially important if your gut imbalance is inhibiting the absorption of the food you eat.

In addition, I have learned that regardless of my diet, if I am extremely stressed and not getting regular exercise, my body does not feel well. I have tried all types of exercise and stress and relaxation techniques and I mix up my routine regularly. I find that exercise makes everything work a bit better and stress and anxiety can cause my gut imbalance almost as much as eating grains does. Yoga, brisk walking, meditation, and deep belly breathing can do wonders for your gut.

You are Unique—Learn About Your Body

If you are experiencing symptoms and want to make dietary or lifestyle changes, I recommend that you get as much information about yourself and your current state as you can. Be that through lab tests or by keeping a “food and feeling” journal for 2 weeks to see how foods affect you. Remember that you are unique and every diet should be tailored to you, regardless of what the “rules” are about a specific diet. Even with Paleo, there are some “gray areas,” as some people can tolerate dairy, such as Ghee, and others cannot. Some people can eat grain-free 3 days a week and see enough of a benefit, while others are like me and cannot have one cheat day or they pay for it for weeks. Find out if you are dealing with food intolerance, sensitivity, or allergy, or if you simply need to limit certain foods and vary your routine. The best way to do most of this is through trial and error.

Transition Slowly

You do not need to go straight to the Paleo diet within a week, or at all potentially. Look realistically at your lifestyle and your present situation. I spent years avoiding dairy, alcohol, caffeine, and sugar and I still transitioned to Paleo over a 2 ½ year period of time. Similar to how I view exercise, you want to focus on consistency more than intensity. Decide what changes you can make that will be sustainable for you long-term and then make a goal to keep checking in with yourself to see how you are doing. What works for me may not work for you and what works for me now, may not work for me in a year, as our bodies and environments are continually changing.

 

 

Simple Homemade Almond Milk Recipe

Making your own nut milks at home can be an empowering step toward health and well-being for you and your family.

Commercial nut milks and dairy-free alternatives can be overpriced and are often full of additives. For those of us that need to avoid common gut irritants, like guar gum and carrageenan, using store-bought nut milks is not an option.

Plus, it’s easy and fun! All you need is a blender and some cheesecloth or a nut milk bag to create healthy, dairy-free milk alternatives.

Almond Milk

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Yield: 1 quart

Ingredients:

1 cup raw almonds

8 cups filtered water, divided

1/4 teaspoon sea salt, divided

1 small date, pitted

Method:

  1. Place almonds in a bowl with 4 cups of filtered water and 1/8 teaspoon of the salt and soak for 10 hours or overnight.
  2. Drain the nuts and rinse well. transfer them to a blender and fill with 4 cups filtered water. Add the date and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt and blend until smooth.
  3. Strain the milk through a fine-mesh sieve, a nut milk bag, or doubled cheesecloth. Squeeze to remove all of the liquid. Store in the refrigerator for 5 days.

A few tips 

  • I use a Vitamix Pro 7500, but any blender will do.
  • Cheesecloth can work great, but I use a nut milk bag. You can order the bag I use on Amazon.
  • You can also make cashew, hazelnut or brazil nut milk. Soak cashews for 4 hours. Hazelnuts and brazil nuts don’t need to be soaked, because they don’t contain the enzyme inhibitors that prevent nuts from being digested properly- so you can make milk from those nuts at the drop of a hat.
  • Many of us are concerned about the water shortage in California, and thus want to limit our purchase of Almonds. If so, cashews are a fabulous alternative. My husband prefers cashew milk and I tend to make it more often as the nuts are soaked for less time and less pulp is produced.
  • There are many uses for the leftover almond pulp, so be sure to save it and look for recipes online!

Angela Watson Robertson

Making your own nut milks at home can be an empowering step toward health and well-being for you and your family.

Commercial nut milks and dairy-free alternatives can be overpriced and are often full of additives. For those of us that need to avoid common gut irritants, like guar gum and carrageenan, using store-bought nut milks is not an option.

Plus, it’s easy and fun! All you need is a blender and some cheesecloth or a nut milk bag to create healthy, dairy-free milk alternatives.

Almond Milk

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Yield: 1 quart

Ingredients:

1 cup raw almonds

8 cups filtered water, divided

1/4 teaspoon sea salt, divided

1 small date, pitted

Method:

  1. Place almonds in a bowl with 4 cups of filtered water and 1/8 teaspoon of the salt and soak for 10 hours or overnight.
  2. Drain the nuts and rinse well. transfer them to a blender and fill with 4 cups filtered water. Add the date and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt and blend until smooth.
  3. Strain the milk through a fine-mesh sieve, a nut milk bag, or doubled cheesecloth. Squeeze to remove all of the liquid. Store in the refrigerator for 5 days.

A few tips 

  • I use a Vitamix Pro 7500, but any blender will do.
  • Cheesecloth can work great, but I use a nut milk bag. You can order the bag I use on Amazon.
  • You can also make cashew, hazelnut or brazil nut milk. Soak cashews for 4 hours. Hazelnuts and brazil nuts don’t need to be soaked, because they don’t contain the enzyme inhibitors that prevent nuts from being digested properly- so you can make milk from those nuts at the drop of a hat.
  • Many of us are concerned about the water shortage in California, and thus want to limit our purchase of Almonds. If so, cashews are a fabulous alternative. My husband prefers cashew milk and I tend to make it more often as the nuts are soaked for less time and less pulp is produced.
  • There are many uses for the leftover almond pulp, so be sure to save it and look for recipes online!

It can be said that most, if not all, of our experience begins from our perception and the consistent thoughts that we think. These consistent thoughts, for better or for worse, affect all areas of our lives. Most of us can remember a time when we were feeling calm and at peace and something triggered a thought (whether we realized it or not) that immediately changed our mood. Before we knew what hit us, we felt sad, low and hopeless. Often our environment has not changed, nothing dramatic or traumatic has happened, yet something has shifted and we no longer feel balanced and whole. It began with a thought. We identified with that thought and then became emotionally connected to that thought.

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

It has taken me over a decade of personal and spiritual development to realize that the phrase “change your thinking, change your life” doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be fully in control of your mind. Most of us aren’t able to monitor or control every thought in our heads and if you’ve ever tried, you know it’s quite exhausting of a task. So, I say, cut your brain some slack, it’s just doing it’s job.

Brains think and, at least in my experience, no matter how much meditation you do, it will still be doing its’ job and pretty darn well. Thoughts will always come and go, but the important piece to remember is you don’t have to believe everything you think. This may seem shocking to some and quite elementary to others, but when I realized this it made a huge difference in how I view my inner landscape. Once I realized that there are many factors that contribute to my thoughts and they are not necessarily what I believe, feel or want to take action on, I felt truly liberated. So I shifted my personal growth work to focus on allowing my thoughts to be just what they are – thoughts. Soon my work became questioning my thoughts and discontinuing to identify or believe in everything I think.

Remember the Mind-Body Connection

There are a few thing we can do when we are stuck in a mental rut. Most of us realize that our thoughts affect our actions, but did you know that our actions affect our thoughts? It is important to remember this mind-body connection, especially when it seems difficult to change our thought patterns. For example, it is less likely to think negative thoughts while you are using your body in a positive way: Try dancing around to some uplifting music and smiling in front of the mirror. Put yourself in an uplifting environment such as taking a walk in a park, practicing yoga or working in your garden. Often you will find your thinking will shift with your body.

Be Your Own Best Friend

Challenging our thoughts and shifting our mindset is a warrior’s journey, yet not everyone is up for the task. For my fellow warrior’s out there, you will need to learn to be your own best friend. During times of change and growth you may feel alone and changing our thoughts may seem impossible. Ask yourself “what do I need right now to feel better?” When negative thoughts arise, talk to yourself as your best friend would talk to you. Often we talk to ourselves in ways that do not promote positivity and thus, inhibit growth. For example, if you have the thought “I will never get well,” you could think of what your best friend would say to you instead and respond by saying, “You are doing the best you can right now, each day you are making better choices for your life and your body. In time, you will see a difference.” There is no sense in lying to ourselves, so be honest, but be kind – just like a best friend would.

Practice Mindfulness

It is important to practice mindfulness and bring more awareness to what we are thinking on a regular basis. This doesn’t mean you have to track every thought, but become aware of your most consistent or recurring thought patterns. Our subconscious minds will act on any thought as a command, whether the message is positive or negative. A practice I like to use to generate mindfulness is to sit in silent meditation for at least 5 minutes per day and imagine I am sitting by a small stream of water. There is a tree nearby that has leaves falling into the stream. Each thought I have is a leaf floating on the water. I notice the thought or leaf and I let it pass me by.

Find & Replace

Another practice I have used over the years is to carry a small notebook with me everywhere I go for a week and write down every thought that I have. This may seem daunting, but it is well worth the effort. It will be impossible to write down all of your thoughts, but write down as many as you can. As you write them down, question them: Do I truly believe this statement? Is it true? Only choose to own the statements that are absolutely true for you.

As you look at your list, cross out any negative or hurtful thoughts and replace them with a positive version of that thought. For example a fearful thought about your work or job, such as “I don’t know what I’m doing, everyone is going to laugh at me,” could be replaced with something like “Each day I am learning and growing and improving. It is natural to feel uncertain at times, but I am doing my best.” Consistently replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts and affirmations will eventually become second nature and have an enormous affect on our whole being – mentally, spiritually and physically.

The Domino Effect

When we make the effort to replace our negative thoughts often we begin experiencing positive emotions and have a brighter outlook for our lives. Positive emotions broaden your sense of possibility and open your mind up to thoughts of a positive future.  These thoughts affect not only your mind, but increase your body’s ability to heal itself because it no longer has to fight the effects of stress from negative thinking. Positive thoughts become the domino effect of health and are often the beginning of our journey for a holistic, healthy life.

In our fast-paced culture and with our busy lives, it’s helpful to have healthy snacks on hand at all times in case you find yourself in a pinch. Though you can find various forms of snacks or treats at most gas stations and grocery stores, they are not all created equal and eating many of them may leaving you feeling worse than you did before.

As a Health Coach, I’m often asked for recommendations of healthy snacks for when we are on the go. Surprisingly, even health food stores have very few snack bar options that aren’t loaded with added sugar, gluten, soy, and other preservatives.

Here are a few of my recommendations:

#1 Make your own trail mix

Make your own trail mix at home and carry some in your bag, purse or car at all times. I order all of the below ingredients in bulk from Amazon Prime. Mix the below together in a bowl and divide the portions into baggies and then you are good to go!

Angela’s Homemade Trail Mix

1 cup Raw, Organic Cashews

1 cup Raw, Organic Almonds

¼ cup Raw, Organic Sunflower Seeds

¼ cup Raw, Organic Goji Berries

#2 Raw Crunch Bar- Blueberry + Lemon

This bar is handmade, gluten-free and only has 5g of sugar. My favorite flavor is the Blueberry + Lemon and I order them from Amazon Prime. This bar is pictured above.

#3 USANA Berry Nutty Nutrition Bar

The Berry Nutty Nutrition Bar from my product partner, USANA Health Sciences, Inc, are hands-down the best tasting nutrition bars I have ever tried. My husband is obsessed with them! The Berry Nutty Bar is a whole foods nutrition bar sourced from non-GMO raw almonds, cashews, oats and other whole foods. They are gluten-free and have only 9g of sugar. You can order them from USANA here. Click “Shop” and then choose “Diet and Energy.”

#4 Artisana Organics Raw Almond Butter 

I’ve tried all of the raw almond butters on the market and this one wins in taste. I order it here from Amazon Prime. This almond butter is great on celery or with carrot sticks, but if you are on the go, buy the travel size packets (as pictured above) and eat them as is. One note of caution: if you do have a sluggish digestive system, too much nut butter does not help, so remember: all things in moderation.

Health Coach Pep Talk 

Remember, these are considered treats and I do not eat them every day or in large quantities at a time. They are not meant to replace whole foods or home-cooked meals, but are very helpful options for you when there are limited healthy options around. If you grab one of these instead of a snickers bar when you are on the go then I’d call that a win! You got this!

As you probably know, most health concerns or imbalances are connected, at some level, to the amount of stress in our lives. Stress can come in many forms and from all types of experiences, including positive ones, such as a birth of a child, a wedding or a new job. That being said, an excess of stress is not good for our bodies, our immune systems or our lives.

As someone who has experienced anxiety and panic most of her life, stress is closely related to anxiety, panic and depression. The equation usually goes like this: Too much stress or overwhelm = Anxiety. In addition, if I don’t keep me anxiety in balance I can progress to panic and possibly depression. Due to this, it is obvious why I am very motivated to try everything I can to keep my stress levels to a minimum.

Health Coach Toolbox 

As a Health Coach, I spend a lot of time and energy thinking about what helps me manage my own stress and anxiety and what I can suggest to others. Over time I have created my “toolbox,” as I refer to it, of tricks, techniques and tools that assist in relaxation and relieving stress (I keep this list on a notepad on my phone). It is helpful to have a toolbox of various tools as what works for you one day may not work the next. I do not utilize all of these tools on a daily basis or each time I am feeling stressed, but I always keep them in mind and use what feels right in the moment.

  • Earthing & Grounding in Nature: See our recent post about the health benefits of earthing. I try to get my bare feet in the dirt or grass as often as possible. This involves also getting my full body in sunlight several times a day and taking walks in nature or outside often.
  • Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT): Check out this demonstration about using EFT for anxiety. I followed along with this video for weeks until I felt comfortable doing the technique on my own.
  • “Low and slow” deep breathing: Learn more about this type of breathing here and see a demonstration. I find the simple act of breathing in and out of my belly in a deep and slow way the most helpful when I’m stressed and anxious.
  • Alternate nostril breathing: Watch a demonstration of this technique here. This breathing technique is really grounding and will help center you. I often follow up this technique with another tool from the toolbox once I am grounded and feeling more calm.
  • Self-Massage: Learn how to give yourself a full body massage in only 30 seconds here. I recommend all types of self-massage including ear massage, abdominal massage and foot massage. This will be even more impactful after a hot bath with lavender oil.
  • Hot bath with essential oils: My favorite essential oils to use in the bath are lavender, ylang ylang and orange. Use lavender to calm you, ylang ylang for emotional healing and orange to uplift or energize you. If you don’t have time for a bath or don’t have a bath tub, then do a hot foot bath instead.
  • Rescue remedy/Bach flower essences: I put 4 drops of Rescue Remedy under my tongue when I am feeling anxious as often as needed. You can learn about Bach Flower Essences and order them here.
  • Exercise (that my body WANTS to do): Check out this recent post for my 5 favorite yoga postures to shift anxiety. Some type of movement is extremely helpful when feeling anxious or stressed. My personal favorites are vigorous walks in nature, yoga or kickboxing. The important part is to do exercise that you body is craving and wants to do.

A Side Note

It is important to remember that many of these techniques are meant to be used for prevention and may not necessarily stop a panic attack or intense anxiety in its’ tracks. I find that many of these tools alone or in combination with each other do ease panic and anxiety in the moment; however, I view these tools as opportunities to prevent my anxious sensations from become so intense that they trigger a panic attack. They aren’t magic or a quick fix, but they can be enormously helpful, especially if used consistently.

For Further Help

If you find that you are using these techniques regularly and you are unable to see any relief, I encourage you to take a look at your lifestyle and habits and see if there are ways that you can slow down a bit and nurture yourself. Can you make more space in your life for alone time to journal, read, meditate, pray, cook, garden or whatever fills you with calm and peace? It is necessary for all of us to make time for creativity, fun, and down time.

In addition, if you need further support please seek out a professional and licensed therapist that specializes in anxiety, panic and depression.

Good luck on your journey and be gentle with yourself!

As a health coach and yoga teacher I often work with people who are stepping out of their comfort zone and trying a new form of exercise, like yoga, for the first time. As you probably would guess, I love yoga and I highly recommend it to my friends and clients. It is important to move our bodies in a way that energizes and empowers us. For many people, yoga is the perfect complement to their other workout routines and helps balance their stressful and busy lives. If you are feeling overwhelmed by all the yoga studios and options out there and aren’t sure where to start, here are some tips for you.

Set Your Intention 

What do you want to get out of a yoga class? Like anything we do in life, what we put into it is what we get out of it. What are your goals? Many people are looking for relaxation, stress release, strength training or weight loss when they start a yoga practice. Set your intention first. Once you know what you are looking for it will be easier to determine the type of yoga that will help you on your journey.

Determine Your Needs

You will find that there are many different forms and styles of yoga practice. Here are some sample questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you an avid runner who is looking to reduce the chance of injury through regular, deep stretching?
  • Will yoga be your primary form of exercise? What other exercise will you do?
  • Are you looking for a meditative, stress-relieving experience that helps you calm down at the end of the day?
  • Are you looking to lose weight and do you want a high intensity class to burn calories?

No matter who you are there is a type of yoga that can help you meet your goals, but it helps to do some research about your options. I’ve talked to people who decided that yoga was not for them after just a few classes, but, in reality, it may have been the specific teacher, studio or style of yoga that wasn’t a good fit.

Check Out Your Options

There are a lot of different styles of yoga for you to choose from. I suggest you try a variety of different studios and styles before you decide which type is right for you. In an attempt to be brief in this post, I’m not outlining all of the various styles of yoga and their benefits. You can find every type of experience- from classes that are in really hot rooms with an intense cardio-style flow series to a class at room temperature where you lay on your back the entire time surrounded by props and blankets holding each posture for several minutes for deep stretching. Here are a few tips while researching your options:

  1. Ask your friends and family for recommendations of their favorite studios and join them during one of their next classes.
  2. Do a web search for yoga studios and classes in your area. On the studio or gym website read the instructor backgrounds and bios and class descriptions. Most studio websites will give you an outline of the type of practice you can expect and may even have sample videos of classes in their studio.
  3. Look for the “introductory” or “beginner” classes. Some studios even have beginner workshops that will teach you about that specific type or tradition of yoga in a relaxed environment.
  4. Try a lot of different styles. If you do not like that particular class, studio or instructor do not give up. Keep going to different classes and studios until you find one that works for you.

Mix It Up

If you are like me, you may find that you are drawn to several styles and are drawn to practicing different ones at different times depending on how you feel. Some people find one style, studio or teacher and they are set. Others, like me, need a variety of studios, instructors, and styles to meet the flow of life. Be open to what you find out about yourself and listen to what your body needs. No matter what, remember that it’s just yoga. Are you moving your body in a way that you enjoy? If the answer is yes, then you are winning! Have some fun!

Corporate life and frequent travel can make it really difficult for those of us who want to be healthy. It can be challenging for those of us with food allergies and sensitivities to take care of ourselves while on the road.

As a former road warrior and sales executive, I continually refined my skills for eating well while traveling. Healthy eating can be a commitment of its’ own, but, as in my case, avoiding dairy, gluten and grains, processed sugars and legumes while traveling is an art that requires planning, preparation, creativity and flexibility. My health journey over the years has involved following a vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and paleo diet. Currently, a strict grain-free, plant-based paleo diet helps me feel well and balanced. Following your own nutrition needs while on the road can be done. Here are a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way.

Planning & Preparation

Set Your Intention

As we are all unique individuals, our bodies have different requirements. Learn about yourself and explore what works for your body. Maybe you need to follow a strict grain-free or paleo diet (avoiding legumes, dairy, processed sugars and all grains) diet while on the road or maybe you just need to avoid excess alcohol or sugar. Many people feel better avoiding gluten entirely, but do not need to avoid all grains. Others can allow some gluten, but only a few times a week. It may take some trial and error to figure out what works for you. I recommend you set your intention and goal for your “diet style” before you travel so that you do not have to make a game time decision that may be stressful.

 Do Your Research

Research the restaurants and grocery stores in the area that provide meals that fit your needs. I always research restaurants in the area that provide gluten-free or grain-free options prior to my trip. I find Yelp to be of great help to do so. Take a look at the menu. If you are like me, everyone you travel with knows that you have diet restrictions and often turns to you when deciding where to dine out. It will help immensely to have a few ideas in your back pocket in case you get asked this question. If restaurant options are looking slim, look for a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods near your hotel and map out the location. Call your hotel and discuss your options: Can they provide a microwave and/or refrigerator in your room so you can keep snacks or other foods you buy at the store? Do they offer room service and does it provide grain-free or gluten-free options? Ask for the menu prior to your arrival.

Plan Your Agenda

Once you have identified your resources and options you can outline what will work for you on each specific trip. For example, if possible, I would choose a hotel that provided a refrigerator and was close to a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s in case I was not able to eat at the restaurant my client or colleagues chose. I would plan my calendar and flight itinerary in a way to make time to go to the store before the conference or meetings began. At times, this required flying into a city the day before an event. If I was traveling to an area without a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s I was usually able to talk to the hotel and determine some in-room dining options that I could work with.

Creativity & Flexibility

 Pack Snacks

Traveling requires a lot of creativity and flexibility, especially when you are in a sales role and busy with clients. Often you are not able to control where you eat, when you eat and you do not have time to go to a grocery store, even if there is one. For this reason I recommend packing various snacks that will help you out while on the road and in the airport. I usually packed a variety of the following depending on the length of the trip:

Sweet potato chips

Raw unsweetened almond butter (travel size packets)

Raw almonds

Raw cashews

Fruit leather

Protein bars (gluten or grain-free)

Dark chocolate

Beef jerky

Organic baby food (travel pouch)

**I will be outlining the specific brands of Paleo and grain-free snacks that I like to buy in a future post.

At the Airport

I found the airport to be the most challenging situation while on the road. I know there are a few airports that are starting to have “healthier” options, but these often are still quite limiting for those of us following a grain-free diet. Most of the time I would stick to the snacks I packed with me while at the airport and try my best to manage my schedule so I was not starving once I got there. Otherwise, look for a deli and see if they can wrap their turkey wrap in lettuce or look for a more upscale restaurant and request a bun-less burger with no cheese (add avocado and tomato) and a side of steamed veggies.

Just In Case

Regardless of the amount of planning and preparation you may still come into contact with gluten or grains, especially if you are dining at restaurants often. Pack digestive enzymes that specifically break down gluten proteins (and casein if you are sensitive or intolerant) and take the recommended amount with each meal. You can find a few good brands on Amazon. I would also pack probiotics and various other herbs and supplements that would help keep my immune system in balance while on the road and eating differently than I would at home.

We are our bodies and our bodies are continually communicating to us. For women, and the communities we are a part of, menstruation is, or can be, a source of power and deep wisdom. The challenge, if we choose to accept it, in our process of creating holistic health and balance in our lives, is to take time out to listen during this time each month. Priceless pieces of information about our physiological and emotional well being are shared with us if we tune in and become aware.

My Journey

My own journey toward holistic balance has involved a process of owning my femininity and healing a deep wound about what it means to be female. I was a late bloomer and did not begin menstruating until I was 17. I was deeply ashamed of this as it seemed that all the girls had already “become a woman” and I felt left out. I have memories of “pretending” I was having my period so as to be accepted by my peers.

Once I did begin to menstruate, I spent much time and effort trying to hide my menstruation out of shame that I would not be accepted or would be viewed as weak or “high maintenance” by friends, lovers or my coworkers at my corporate job. As I write this I find it ironic that when I was not bleeding I tried to pretend I was and when I was bleeding I tried to pretend I was not.  We just can win with ourselves sometimes!

A New Way To Be

Now I am on a new path, and with the help of reading books like Her Blood Is Gold, by Lara Owen, I’m teaching myself a new way to be. I no longer pretend that I am “just one of the guys” or try to hide my menstruation. I have realized that I need space and quiet time during my moon time, as I refer to it. I do not apologize for my need for space during this time and I have made intentional, and some times uncomfortable, choices that have led to my being surrounded by friends, family and a lifestyle that supports this. My moon time has become a sacred time for me to reflect on the previous month and prepare for the upcoming month. I take time to rest and nurture myself during this time, even as painful as it often is, and I use this monthly wisdom and learning to nurture my life and the lives of those around me.

One of my favorite meditations to do during the most painful times, is to visualize that I am connected (be that physically, emotionally, spiritually or mentally) to all of the women who have bled before me, all the women who are bleeding with me now, and all the women who will bleed in the future. This is a powerful thought and visualization that gives me strength and empowers me to use the gift of menstruation to go deep within myself and connect with the wisdom of others.

You see, the thing is, if we really believe that we must look at our lives from a holistic perspective in order to foster health and wholeness, which I do, then we have to look at all parts of our experience as feeling, sensing beings. As women, when our bodies ache before or during menstruation, it may be trying to tell us that it is tired of being told to go away. It’s tired of being put last, it’s ready to have a bigger voice in our life. There may be a message there, if we slow down and listen. In my experience, the more I try to pretend I am “just one of the guys” or hide that I need to nurture myself during my moon time, the more it requires my undivided attention.

Symptoms Wake Us Up

As Lara Owen states in her book, “Symptoms wake us up…They are messages from the body. If you have a healthy lifestyle, a good diet and enough sleep and you still have menstrual symptoms, you have to go deeper and ask yourself what your body is trying to tell you.” I invite you to listen and use what you learn to nourish your body and your spirit. I am on the journey with you.

Most of us who experience anxiety and panic on a regular basis want to get rid of it, cure ourselves of it, or, at least, deny it and pretend it is not there. We imagine a life where we never feel anxious and it seems perfect and problem-free. If only we could find the perfect drug or supplement, the best technique or therapist, then we would be “fixed.” Then we would be content. I get that feeling and spent a good part of the past 15 years practically killing myself to accomplish this goal.

What we need to realize is by thinking this way, we often set ourselves up for failure. I would like to offer a different approach, a different way of thinking: What if we accept and embrace our anxiety and panic and decide to thrive anxiously?

We could decide to thrive with our anxiety and panic, not despite of.

Stick with me here. I realize this seems ridiculous- who would choose to partner with their anxiety? Yet I see this as one of the greatest acts of self-care and self-love that one can make. Recently, while meditating, I was struck with the idea that anxiety and panic, at some level, may be a part of my experience for the rest of my life and I may have been looking at this “disorder” all these years from the wrong perspective. I was overwhelmed with the idea that my panic attacks and general anxiety have been my teacher and, at times, my guide. How many times have I felt anxiety or panic come on for no reason and then later realized that the situation I was in was not healthy for me?

Here is what I know from my experience: our bodies are continually sending us signals as to what we need in the moment, if only we can allow ourselves to listen. If we tune in to our bodies, we will often find that they are more in tune with our surroundings, our situations and our needs than our minds are. If you are like me, you have had to learn this the difficult way, through years of unnecessary struggle.

If you are having panic attacks every time you spend time with a certain person, listen to it. Maybe that relationship is not in your (or their) best interest. If you feel intense anxiety going to work each day, maybe your body is giving you permission to find new work. Maybe not, but take the time to listen. Journal. Meditate. Sit in silence with your thoughts and feelings. Self-inquiry can be difficult, but can prevent a lot of heartache down the road.

I invite you to give this perspective a try. It may not be for you, but what do you have to lose? So, what is your anxiety teaching you today?

Photo credit: Carsten Howitz, Howitz Photography

There is a lot of hype right now about the Paleo diet and eating Grain-Free. In my experience, most people fall into 1 of 2 categories when deciding to make this lifestyle and diet choice: They are either required to do so either short-term or long-term based on a food allergy, sensitivity, intolerance or chronic illness; OR they are doing so for general wellness or as a short term health challenge.

I fall into the former category and it has been quite a process to get where I am today. Despite living a healthy lifestyle for years, including avoiding dairy and processed sugars, and following vegan and vegetarian diets, I experienced chronic gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort, urinary tract infections, Candida imbalance and sinus infections. I also experienced unexplained bouts of depression, anxiety and intense fatigue that were rarely representative of my situation. Medications made things worse or caused side effects and supplements helped, but did not provide substantial relief. My symptoms often stumped my doctors and I realized I needed to look to my lifestyle and diet to heal myself regardless of a diagnosis.

Going Gluten-Free

Luckily, in 2012, I was advised by a holistic D.O. to get tested for gluten intolerance and discovered I have non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). This changed my world and I quickly turned my lifestyle upside down to suit my new diet. I have always been willing to change my lifestyle drastically if my health or wellness is on the line, so I was all in. In addition, I was highly motivated to make any changes necessary to prevent future illness or disease as earlier that same year I witnessed my Aunt pass away, at an early age, from an advanced Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST).

I quickly researched what I needed at home to cook properly and the healthiest, and trendy, local restaurants that suited my new diet. I found eating gluten-free to be only mildly inconvenient as I was already a self-proclaimed “health nut” and, as I was already avoiding sugar, dairy and most alcohol, I was used to living with food allergies and sensitivities. With the help of online resources, within 3 weeks of my gluten sensitivity diagnosis, I managed to pull off aThanksgiving meal for my husband’s family entirely gluten-free.

Getting Off Grains

I maintained my strict gluten-free diet, and even monitored any possible cross-contamination at restaurants, for 2 years. I experienced significant improvement of all of my symptoms, yet I still was not completely well. At the recommendation of a helpful Traditional Chinese Doctor and Acupuncturist, I had additional tests performed to look for cross-reactivity of gluten, a potential culprit for someone with a gluten sensitivity who is avoiding gluten 100% and still experiencing imbalance.

These tests revealed that my body was still “thinking” it was getting gluten and treating non-gluten proteins found in foods, such as teff, tapioca, amaranth and sesame, as if they contained gluten. My body was creating an auto-immune response any time I was ingesting these foods. As you may know, a gluten-free diet still may consist of a substantial amount of breads, pastas and cereals that use these types of foods. Based on this new information, for the next 6 months I focused on eliminating all grains and reactive foods from my diet. In addition, I decided to eliminate corn and rice from my diet as many people experience cross-reactivity from these, though they did not show up as reactive on my tests. I was not surprised to find that when I ate rice and corn, even in small amounts, I felt bloated and, at times, experienced headaches. Going off of grains was a lot more difficult of a lifestyle choice than being gluten-free, but I felt better right away. The inconvenience I experienced soon paled in comparison to how much better I felt.

Full On Paleo

After 6 months of eating grain-free, I started to get more in touch with my body and what it “should” feel like. I sensed that, though I was on the right track, I still occasionally experienced GI symptoms that did not make sense and were not normal based on my extremely healthy diet. After further research and experimenting with different foods and how I felt, I narrowed down the issue to legumes. Specifically, I eliminated peas, peanut and all beans from my diet. Legumes are often gut irritants, especially for someone who has a history of gut imbalance. Eliminating legumes from my diet further improved my gut health, and though I am not allergic to them, I want to feel balanced in my gut more than I want to eat them. It was around this time that I realized I had slowly transitioned myself to the Paleo diet and that I may be one of the few people who did not intentionally one day say “I’m going to try this Paleo thing.” My diet just ended up fitting the Paleo definition! For the past 5 months I have been living a strict Paleo lifestyle and, though it is a daily journey, I feel better than I have in years.

It’s Not All About Diet

What I have learned is that, though diet and nutrition is very important, it is not the only game in town. I have spent a significant amount of time researching and experimenting with various supplements and nutrients that match my unique body and my dietary lifestyle. I try to keep supplementation to a minimum and rely mostly on real food for my nutrition, but, as someone with anemia and a B-12 deficiency, there are some things that your diet cannot fix on its’ own. This is especially important if your gut imbalance is inhibiting the absorption of the food you eat.

In addition, I have learned that regardless of my diet, if I am extremely stressed and not getting regular exercise, my body does not feel well. I have tried all types of exercise and stress and relaxation techniques and I mix up my routine regularly. I find that exercise makes everything work a bit better and stress and anxiety can cause my gut imbalance almost as much as eating grains does. Yoga, brisk walking, meditation and deep belly breathing can do wonders for your gut.

You are Unique—Learn About Your Body

If you are experiencing symptoms and want to make dietary or lifestyle changes, I recommend that you get as much information about yourself and your current state as you can. Be that through lab tests or by keeping a “food and feeling” journal for 2 weeks to see how foods affect you. Remember that you are unique and every diet should be tailored to you, regardless of what the “rules” are about a specific diet. Even with Paleo, there are some “gray areas,” as some people can tolerate dairy, such as Ghee, and others cannot. Some people can eat grain-free 3 days a week and see enough of a benefit, while others are like me and cannot have one cheat day or they pay for it for weeks. Find out if you are dealing with a food intolerance, sensitivity or allergy, or if you simply need to limit certain foods and vary your routine. The best way to do most of this is through trial and error.

Transition Slowly

You do not need to go straight to the Paleo diet within a week, or at all potentially. Look realistically at your lifestyle and your present situation. I spent years avoiding dairy, alcohol, caffeine and sugar and I still transitioned to Paleo over a 2 ½ year period of time. Similar to how I view exercise, you want to focus on consistency more than intensity. Decide what changes you can make that will be sustainable for you long-term and then make a goal to keep checking in with yourself to see how you are doing. What works for me may not work for you and what works for me now, may not work for me in a year, as our bodies and environments are continually changing.

For more information on my personal experiences or for help with your diet and lifestyle changes, please email me at angela@theholisticates.com.

For many of us, it is helpful to know how to move through and shift the intense energy of anxiety and panic when it occurs. Regardless of the reason for your anxiety or panic attacks, I find that they are often a symptom of intense stress and fearful thinking about the future. As someone who experiences generalized anxiety most of the time, which can, at times, lead to intense panic, I need tools and tricks to try in the moment. After 12 years of practicing and studying yoga, I have a few favorite postures I like to use for anxiety.

It is important to remember that there is no “one size fits all” approach to anything, especially when we are dealing with anxiety and panic. These sensations, thoughts and feelings can come on for no logical reason and it can be very frustrating. I get it. It helps me to see all of the sensations, thoughts and feelings as energy moving around my body and trying to get out, but it is stuck. Body movement, through exercise, stretching or yoga can help release, or at least lessen, the intensity of the energy so you can get in touch with what is really going on and make a game plan to bring yourself back into balance.

Preparation for the Postures 

I recommend doing quite a bit of stretching or the use of a foam roller prior to going into these postures. This will help you get the full benefits of the postures and your hips will be a bit more open. If you are feeling a lot of anxiety or panic it is very helpful to do some type of higher intensity exercise, even just brisk walking for at least a half a mile can work, prior to these postures.

My regimen for really tough days involves a 2 mile power walk (at least a 17 minute mile), followed by 15 minutes of core and lower body exercises, then 15 minutes of stretching and using the foam roller on my low back, IT band, hips and thighs. I find when I do all of this, my body and mind melts into these postures. I also find that if I go straight into the postures without doing some form of more rigorous exercise first, the energy is still too intense and I have a hard time shifting the cycle of negative thinking.

Play with the postures and see how your body reacts to the them. Hold the postures for as long as is comfortable while practicing deep, low-belly breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Deep breathing low in your belly is as important, if not more important, than the postures themselves. The below is not necessarily a sequence, you can practice them in this order, or any order that you choose. You can also pick and choose which postures you do or do not want to try. The order below is the order that I tend to follow. Every day your body feels different so please be open to changing things up as needed from day to day.

Child’s Pose (Balasana)

Benefits: This comforting posture stretches and opens the hips and low back, which often hold tension when we are anxious.

Do: Feel the deep belly breath expanding into your lower back. Hold the posture for a minimum of 3 inhales and exhales. You can keep your arms stretched forward like the pictures below or bring them down by your sides.

Don’t: Don’t abuse your knees. If sitting like this hurts your knees, use a block under your pelvis. Don’t tense up your jaw, neck or shoulders. Keep everything relaxed.

Camel (Ustrasana) 

Benefits: This posture is great for opening the heart and stretching the sternum and upper rib joints, which often carry a lot of tension when we are anxious.

Do: Focus on lifting the sternum, or heart center, upward while engaging your core muscles and pressing your hips forward. Keep your hips in alignment with your knees. You can keep your hands on your low back, bring your palms to your thighs or, if you feel comfortable, bring you hands down to your heels, as shown in the pictures below.

Don’t: Don’t crunch into your lower back, but keep your spine long and imagine you are trying to touch the ceiling with your chest. You do not have to bend back very far to get the benefits of the posture. The focus is more about lifting up than bending back.

Floor Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)

Benefits: This posture helps relieve tension in the low back and stretches the shoulder and chest. I feel a good stretch in my IT band, hip and glutes in this posture.

Do: Keep your bent knee connected to the floor and allow your opposite shoulder to come off the floor, if needed. There are many variations to this posture, but in this example I am keeping my bent knee on the floor and letting my opposite shoulder come up if needed. Practice deep belly breathing and hold the posture for a minimum of 3 inhales and exhales on each side.

 Don’t: Don’t try to force the twist. Let it unfold slowly and deepen a little more with each deep belly breath.

Cow Face (Gomukhasana)

Benefits: This posture will help stretch and open your hips and low back. If you incorporate the arm variation, you will also help open up your shoulders and get a nice stretch in your arms. The combination of this intense stretching and deep belly breathing can provide stillness of the mind. The hips often hold many years of accumulated stress and this posture can help release that over time.

Do: Accept your hips as they are and use a block under your sit bones if needed. Practice deep belly breathing and hold the posture for a minimum of 3 inhales and exhales on each side. You an focus on the full posture (1st and 2nd picture) or focus only on the lower body (3rd and 4th picture). Feel free to use blocks and for a deeper hip and low back stretch you can lean forward, but remember to keep your back straight.

Don’t: Don’t rush the posture. It takes a long time for the hips to open up and it is common for people to elevate their hips or stay up on their knees with blankets or blocks. I personally spent years sitting on a block before I ever felt comfortable lowering my hips to the floor.

Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)

Benefits: This posture decompresses the lower spine, stretches the hamstrings and increases blood flow to the head. The combination of these three benefits with deep belly breathing relieves tension and stress.

Do: Keep your knees slightly bent and let your arms relax. Feel free to try out different arm variations, as shown in the pictures below. Use blocks if you need to. Let gravity do the work as you open your lower back. Let your neck and head relax. Practice deep belly breathing and hold the posture for a minimum of 3 inhales and exhales. Feel the breath expand your lower back. 

Don’t: Don’t lock or hyper-extend your knees. The focus is more on the back and less on the hamstrings. I prefer to keep my knees slightly bent, as shown in photos 3 and 4 below.

Please note: I am not implying that these postures are the “best” postures for relieving anxiety and panic, nor can I promise that you will have a positive experience each time that you use them. These are simply the postures that seem to help me the most. What I can say is that if you are breathing deeply and moving your body in a safe and supportive way, you will see some type of benefit. I encourage you to not get attached to the anxiety or panic “leaving” your body, but instead try to use the postures to connect with the source of why you are feeling anxious so you can understand yourself a little bit more. Often I sit in meditation for 20 minutes after completing these postures to let my body fully relax and continue the deep belly breathing.