New Year’s Resolutions: Healthier You at Every Weight

New Year’s Resolutions: Healthier You at Every Weight

With the closing of one year, another one brings dawning opportunities for new experiences and growth. Part of bringing in the New Year generally includes some sort of health-supporting change from exercise to dieting, and everything in between. Nowadays, there is a strong argument that dieting isn’t the answer; it’s possible to be healthy at every size. Health at Every Size is a movement that has been gaining in popularity over the last several years. But the question remains: is it possible to be healthy at every size? Let’s dive in and find out.

What is Health at Every Size?

Health at Every Size (HAES) was a movement with a history dating back decades. The roots of weight being more of a concern may have stemmed from clothing manufacture. As textiles were produced in ready-to-wear sizes only, this didn’t work well for every body type. Previously, clothing was handmade and tailored to fit the person it was made for.

HAES coalesced into a movement in the early 1960s. During this decade, Weight Watchers was founded and gastric bypass was invented. Yet, there were a few people who stood up to the bias overweight people were subjected to. This paved the way for the formalized HAES in 2003. It stands on the core idea that people can be healthy and unhealthy at any weight and size.

Principles of Health at Every Size

HAES is based on the five principles listed below.

  • Weight Inclusivity
    • Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights.
  • Health Enhancement
    • Support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services, and personal practices that improve human well-being, including attention to individual physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional, and other needs.
  • Eating for Well-Being
    • Promote flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than any externally regulated eating plan focused on weight control.
  • Respectful Care
    • Acknowledge our biases, and work to end weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias. Provide information and services from an understanding that socio-economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and other identities impact weight stigma, and support environments that address these inequities.
  • Life-Enhancing Movement
    • Support physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities, and interests to engage in enjoyable movement, to the degree they choose.

You can read more on the HAES website here.

Advantages vs. Disadvantages

The core of HAES is about respecting people no matter what their weight is. It is not uncommon for women especially to have difficulties with their doctors listening to their concerns. Physicians can be so caught up with the number on the scale, they don’t see the person for who they are. It makes it hard to hear her concerns and make appropriate recommendations for her health in such a situation. Someone who is obese but eats wholesome, healthy food and moves their body is different from someone who is overweight and sits all day, eating processed foods out of boxes.

HAES is in direct contrast to the idea of dieting. The average person knows that weight loss is extremely difficult nowadays. Due to manufacturing and farming processes, modern diets are full of ultra-processed foods with more empty calories and fewer nutrients. Additionally, people tend to eat less whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and consciously raised meats. Between this and a fast-paced world that doesn’t allow much time for cooking, modern diets are in trouble. Sadly, most people are so busy they don’t even make time to move during the day, much less get any sort of exercise.

Rather than focusing on health as a number on a scale, HAES seeks to make healthier lifestyle choices such as exercising and eating for health. The traditional approach to maintaining health has been to use exercise, calorie restrictions, and dietary changes to lose weight, making the assumption only thin people are healthy. Research from several dieting studies found two years after losing weight, 50% was regained. After five more years, more than 80% of lost weight had been regained.

What Does It All Mean

Arguments are made on both sides about whether you can be healthy at every size. The Center for Disease Control states overweight and obese adults are at increased risk of heart disease, sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, body pain, mental disorders, etc. Yet, on the flip side, if someone is miserable because they are calorie counting and forcing themselves to do workouts they hate, that’s not helpful either.

The most important thing to remember is to live your life as healthy and happily as possible. No matter what size your body is, it’s important to add in exercise, eat a whole-foods based diet, drink clean water, and breathe unpolluted air. These healthy habits are difficult for anyone of any weight to add in. Remember, life is a journey; don’t forget small changes lead to larger life changes given enough time.

Finally…

No matter what your thoughts are on this controversial subject, be gentle with yourself. As always, before making any major lifestyle change, you should have a conversation with your doctor. If you and your doctor don’t see eye-to-eye, especially around weight, there are fat-friendly doctors all over the country. The Obesity Medicine Association has a list of fat-friendly doctors, and HAES has a list of fat-friendly dieticians and therapists who might be helpful for you.

References:

  • Bruno, Barbara Altman. 2013. “History of the Health At Every Size Movement, Part 1”. https://asdah.org/history-of-the-health-at-every-size-movement-part-1
  • Center for Disease Control. N.D. “Health Effects of Overweight and Obesity”. Revised Sept. 24, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/effects/index.html
  • Gold, Sunny Sea. 2020. “What if we Stopped Focusing on Weight?”. Health; 34(1): 33-35.
  • Hall, Kevin D, and Scott Kahan. 2018. “Maintenance of Lost Weight and Long-Term Management of Obesity.” The Medical Clinics of North America; 102(1): 183-197. doi:10.1016/j.mcna.2017.08.012
  • Health at Every Size. N.D. “Principles of Health at Every Size.” Retrieved Dec. 25, 2023. https://asdah.org/health-at-every-size-haes-approach
  • Penney, Tarra L, and Sara F L Kirk. 2015. “The Health at Every Size Paradigm and Obesity: Missing Empirical Evidence May Help Push the Reframing Obesity Debate Forward.” American Journal of Public Health; 105(5): e38-42. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2015.302552

Image attribution: mandriapix/freepik.com

Handle with (Self) CARE

Handle with (Self) CARE

By Shannon Sabol, Holistic Health and Ayurveda Wellness Coach, www.gratefullifehealth.com

The Thanksgiving leftovers are eaten, and the pumpkins are put away … which means it is time to bring on CHRISTMAS!  Like most families, it’s a special tradition for my family and I to set up the Christmas tree.  Bringing in a bit of nature into our home, stringing the lights, and beautifying each branch with our collection of ornaments is a magical experience for us all.

Unfortunately, the day we planned on getting our Christmas tree, it was raining. We didn’t want to bring in a soaking wet tree, so we called around and asked if any local garden centers had their trees displayed indoors. After 3 or 4 calls with no luck, we decided to resort to a Big Box store.  We piled into the car and drove to a brightly lit, overstocked hardware store to see what we could find.  We found our way to the garden center and walked over to the pile of tossed around Christmas trees.  Some were already tightly bundled up, and some were open and leaning against the wall.  Most of the trees were not very full and showed many bare spots. Some were even starting to brown.  We dug through the pile with disappointment, and were discouraged by not finding our perfect tree.  We couldn’t even find a decent tree! These were not happy trees…and definitely not cared for.

I suddenly remembered another garden center, which happened to be down the street!  We left the pile of unhappy, uncared for trees, and jumped in the car.  When we arrived at the locally owned garden center, our tree-seeking sadness vanished. The whole garden center was beautifully decorated, warm and welcoming!  It was like walking into a Winter Wonderland!  We wandered past the glittering ornaments and twinkling lights, and found the Christmas tree nursery.  The smell of pine greeted us, and so did rows and rows of HANGING Christmas trees!  These trees were beautifully spread open, and floating off of the ground.  Not only were they full, healthy and vibrant, but they were also named!  Each tree was decorated with a tag with a name on it, like Popeye, Minnie Mouse, Buddy, and Elvis!  THESE trees were cared for.  The difference from the first store to the second was extreme. Not only was there a visible difference, but you FELT difference being around these trees.

This Christmas tree care (and lack of care), made me think about us humans.  Just like Christmas trees, the care that you give yourself makes a difference in how proudly you stand, how much you sparkle, and how you make those around you feel.

Here are some sustainable tips for how to CARE for yourself this holiday season:

PLAN for your self care:  Just as you are marking the calendar for decorating, baking, shopping, and socializing with loved ones, but be sure to include your self care on the calendar. Write it down or plug it in so you make it a priority.

– Set realistic BOUNDARIES with your time and energy:  Get to know what a “YES” feels like, and what a “NO” feels like in your body, when making decisions for social events and holiday tasks.  Ask yourself often if your inputs and outputs feel balanced.

BOOKEND your less-than desirable events:  We all have things we have to do, but don’t want to do around the holidays.  Try to create bookends around the events, like some quiet alone time with a warm cup of tea, before holiday shopping, and a hot bath afterwards.

– Support DIGESTION:  Unplug.  Sit down.  Eat slow.  Chew well.  Be grateful.  It’s not just what you are eating, but HOW you eat that affects digestion.  Eat mindfully and pay attention to how your body responds to what you are eating.

– See REST as another way to be productive:  Stillness is what balances movement.  Quiet is what balances noise.  Rest is what balances busyness.  You will feel more energized, clear and calm after making rest a priority.

– Love your LIVER:  If you indulge in extra alcohol and sweets this holiday season, try to follow it with a detoxifying tea like dandelion root, cinnamon, fennel or coriander, which is supportive to liver health.  Most importantly….stay hydrated!

– Keep MOVING your body:  Busy times might just mean that the intensity and duration of your physical activity change a bit.  Park far away, take the stairs, or have a quick solo dance party to your favorite song.  Even a walk around the block still counts.  A little bit of movement is better than no movement at all.

PRESENCE over presents:  Keep the health of Mother Earth in mind and give experiences and quality time instead of material gifts.  I offer gift cards which can be used for 1:1 Ayurveda coaching, yoga classes and yoga privates, and even retreats! (the next retreat is May 17-19th at Bellwether Farm!).  Contact me to set something up:  shannon@gratefullifehealth.com

CARE about how you care for yourself.  Stand tall, be bright, and watch your life sparkle!

Be well,

Shannon

Shannon Sabol is a Lakewood local, and a passionate Holistic Health and Ayurveda Wellness Coach.  She offers lifestyle support to others by helping them see their life from a more holistic view, educates on preventative health, and shares knowledge on how to create sustainable habits and routine to create a strong foundation of health. Through the ancient science of Ayurveda, she helps others align to the rhythms of nature and discover the wisdom of their own bodies.  She offers 1-on-1 coaching, wellness workshops, and is also a local yoga teacher.  www.gratefullifehealth.com

Schedule a free 20 minute Clarity Call!  shannon@gratefullifehealth.com

Routine Begets the Healing Process

Routine Begets the Healing Process

By Ava Wentzel, LMT, Ayurvedic Yoga Educator

I love this quote because in Ayurveda, we are always trying to get to the quality of an issue or imbalance; this phrasing sheds light on the truth that is: The quality of our bodies and minds and life experiences depends entirely on the small choices we make consistently over the course of our entire life. Our habits have a greater impact on our wellbeing than that one weekend we stayed up for 48 hours and ate nothing but fast food and microwave burritos. So, if you’re wanting to begin your healing process and/or deepen your connection to yourself, the best place to start is with your routine.

To use Ayurvedic terms, when working with someone who wants to make changes we almost always want to begin by pacifying Vata Dosha. This is the pairing of the elements Air & Ether within the body/mind. When Vata Dosha is out of balance, we experience a multitude of issues such as anxiety, circular thinking, an inability to sit still or relax, lack of contentment, gas and bloating, sharp pains, aching in the muscles and joints, inability to focus, dizziness or shakiness, fatigue, a sense of weakness, shortness of breath, brain fog, insomnia, dry mouth and skin, rough hair and chipping nails, constipation, and much more. And the key to bringing Vata back into balance is routine and a sense of security.

Due to the nature of Air & Ether, Vata Dosha’s qualities are: light, cold, dry, rough, hard, mobile, subtle, clear, irregular, and dispersing. Take a moment to consider how the aforementioned examples of Vata Imbalance in the body/mind reflect the qualities of Vata Dosha.

Vata Imbalance: Constipation

Quality in Excess: Hard or Rough

Vata Imbalance: Joint Aches

Quality in Excess: Cold or Hard

Vata Imbalance: Inability to Sit Still

Quality in Excess: Mobile or Dispersing

The way to balance the Vata qualities would be to introduce their opposites: heavy, hot, oily, slimy/smooth, soft, stable, gross, cloudy. These are all qualities that promote grounding, security, and contentment. Think about it—when you’ve just been outside in the freezing snow for an hour, moving all around, shoveling your driveway, thoughts racing as you try to think about holiday plans and end-of-year work deadlines (COLD/DRY, MOBILE, DISPERSING), all you want when you come inside is to drink a HOT cup of cocoa, put on SOFT fuzzy socks, and sit in a STABLE cushy chair with a big blanket by the fire. For dinner, you might have something HOT/OILY/HEAVY like a dense chicken stew with a thick slice of toasted sourdough slathered with butter.

How does your body feel as you imagine this scenario?

How do you feel outside in the cold?

How do you feel when you come inside?

It’s likely you feel incredibly relieved, comforted, at ease, and grounded.

So, if we know we need to pacify Vata Dosha before any healing changes can occur, and if we know that the essence of any Vata-pacifying remedy is grounding, then I ask you: What is more grounding than a strong daily routine? And if our routine, our habits have an effect on the qualities of our experience, we want to be thinking about what qualities we truly want to introduce into our lives via food, relationships, conversations, etc.

I will go into daily routine (or, as it is called in Ayurveda, Dinacharya) more in another newsletter issue, but the important thing to do at the beginning is to start to invite self-inquiry—notice how your daily habits make you feel and decide if you want to continue to engage in habits that make you feel that way. Notice if your body wants you to continue these daily habits. Listen with an open heart and you might be quite pleasantly surprised to hear a gentle message emerge from deep within you.

Lots of Love,

Ava

@avaleben

P.S. I will be having a live conversation with Osi Mizrahi, an Ayurvedic expert and wellness advocate, where we will be discussing Dinacharya (aka daily routine.) Osi, also an incredibly vibrant entrepreneur and founder of Osi Oils, believes that each and every one of us possesses the ability to provide for ourselves, to heal ourselves, and to transform ourselves simply by cultivating healthy, nourishing, and supportive daily rituals. Join us on Instagram on Monday, December 18th 2023 at 1PM EST to listen to the conversation and ask questions!

ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः

Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

(Om, Peace, Peace, Peace)

FOR MORE AYURVEDIC INSIGHTS, FOLLOW ME ON INSTAGRAM @AVALEBEN

Paleo Eating – Not just for Cave People

Paleo Eating – Not just for Cave People

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see our disclosures here.

 

The Paleolithic Diet, more commonly known as the Paleo Diet, is a style of eating based on what Paleolithic humans ate more than 10,000 to 2 million years ago. This whole-foods based diet was originally proposed as an idea in the 1960s. But, the Paleo Diet has been gaining in popularity since 2002 when Dr Loren Cordain’s book The Paleo Diet was published. Devotees of this eating approach swear by it, toting better health via weight loss, healthier blood sugars, etc. Critics state we really don’t know what Paleolithic man ate, and we don’t know if they were actually healthier or not. Either way, if you’ve been curious about the Paleo Diet, here’s your chance to dive in!

What is the Paleo Diet?

The Paleo Diet includes eating more like humans before the development of farming. More specifically, it recommends eating lean meats, fish, eggs, vegetables, and fruit. Dairy, legumes (except green beans, snow peas, and sugar snap peas), potatoes, and grains are to be avoided. Refined cooking oils and alcohol are also frowned upon. In general, fruits are allowed in moderation as they are higher in sugar. Added natural sweeteners such as honey, molasses, maple syrup, raw cane sugar, etc., can be used in small amounts. Grass-fed or wild-caught meats, cold-pressed oils, and organic vegetables are preferred, but most authors of Paleo books support buying according to your budget. Processed foods, soda pop, refined sugar, and artificial sweeteners are to be avoided.

On top of that, there are also specific types of Paleo Diet recommendations for people who have chronic diseases including autoimmune diagnoses. These specific protocols can limit nightshades or nuts and seeds for example, as they can potentially cause inflammation. Some modern Paleo authors also state raw dairy, grass-fed butter, and sweet potatoes are fine as long as it is well-tolerated. Generally, a moderate amount of protein and carbohydrates (from vegetables and fruits), and adequate healthy fats are recommended.

Benefits of Eating Paleo

There can be a wide variety of health benefits following a Paleo Diet. Paleo Diets are typically higher in fiber, antioxidants, potassium, and other micronutrients. With a whole foods diet, it also limits the number of processed foods which are generally lower in nutritional value. Processed foods also tend to be higher in sugar, and too much sugar can be inflammatory, increasing the risk of chronic disease in the future.

One study evaluated people with metabolic syndrome which is estimated to affect 30% or more of American adults. It found that in cases when adults followed the Paleo Diet anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months, there was a reduction in waist size, lowering of high blood pressure, and fasting blood sugars when compared to placebos. Another study looked at all causes of death and found that it may reduce the risk of dying for any reason. Additionally, it helps improve total cholesterol, LDL (“bad” cholesterol), and triglycerides.

Some proponents indicate that it is more than just a diet; rather, it is a way of life by regulating sleep, using more natural movement and body weight exercise such as MovNAT, having screen-free days, etc. This can further increase the potential benefits of the Paleo Diet as overall lifestyle choices are improving.

Downsides to Paleo

Some short-term research studies seem to indicate Paleo Diets provide inadequate levels of iodide and calcium. One argument states that since magnesium is higher, and calcium excretion has been found to be lower, it balances out in the end, but there is limited data on this. This diet hasn’t been well-studied to see if it is maintainable long term either. Are there enough minerals to prevent osteoporosis for instance?

Another limiting factor can be meal planning. With today’s busy lifestyles, it can be difficult to cook meals every day to put on the table. Generally, the allowed foods, especially fresh meats, tend to be more expensive. There can also be concerns with nutrient deficiencies when eliminating entire categories of food. Additionally, some people can interpret Paleo incorrectly, eating a lot of meat while not increasing their vegetable and fruit intake. Eating large amounts of red meat increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and early death. Finally, this eating style can be incredibly difficult to maintain long term as it is so far different from the standard American diet. There are also limits on study length to find out if the benefits of eating Paleo last for years.

Wrapping It All Up…

It’s important to find a whole-foods based diet that works best for you and your family’s needs. Eating minimally processed foods, drinking water, getting adequate sleep, etc, are also important lifestyle factors that can have a large impact on health whether you follow the Paleo Diet or not.

As always, you should consult with your physician before making any sweeping lifestyle changes. If you have questions about your diet or the Paleo diet, seek out professional guidance from a holistic doctor or nutritionist in your area.

References:

  • Agoulnik, Dorothy MS, RD; Lalonde, Mathieu Pascal PhD; Ellmore, George S. PhD; McKeown, Nicola M. PhD. 2021. “Part 1: The Origin and Evolution of the Paleo Diet.” Nutrition Today; 56(3): 94-104. doi: 10.1097/NT.0000000000000482
  • Challa HJ, Bandlamudi M, Uppaluri KR. 2023. “Paleolithic Diet”. StatPearls. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482457
  • Harvard T.H. Chan – School of Public Health. N.D. “Diet Review: Paleo Diet for Weight Loss.” Retrieved Nov. 28, 2023. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-weight/diet-reviews/paleo-diet
  • Manheimer, Eric W et al. 2015. “Paleolithic Nutrition for Metabolic Syndrome: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; 102(4): 922-32. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.113613
  • Moore JX, Chaudhary N, Akinyemiju T. 2017. “Metabolic Syndrome Prevalence by Race/Ethnicity and Sex in the United States, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988-2012.” Prev Chronic Dis; 14: 160287. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd14.160287
  • Whalen, Kristine A et al. 2017. “Paleolithic and Mediterranean Diet Pattern Scores Are Inversely Associated with All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality in Adults.” The Journal of Nutrition; 147(4): 612-620. doi:10.3945/jn.116.241919

Image attribution: vecstock/freepik.com

Quality Over Quantity

Quality Over Quantity

By Ava Wentzel, LMT, Ayurvedic Yoga Educator

It’s November and we are nearing the many feast days of the cold months! So, let’s get right into it.

Food is a sensitive topic for most of us because we all ultimately want to “do it right.” It’s very easy to fall into a spiral and become overwhelmed with emotions like shame, guilt, and regret due to our relationship or engagement with food. So, let’s take a moment to consider Ayurveda’s general perspective on food.

EXIT: Counting calories.

ENTER: Prioritizing quality.

It may very well be uncomfortable to imagine ignoring the calories in something we consume, but ancient Ayurvedic wisdom teaches us that the only true concerns we need have when it comes to what we eat are:

1.   Is my body sensitive to or intolerant of this food?

2.   Will this food balance me?

3.   Is there Prana in this food?

What we want to do is assess the quality of our food. We want to know where our food is coming from, how it was cultivated, how much energy it will give us, and how it will impact our body and mind.

FOOD SENSITIVITIES

If we are eating foods that our body is telling us we can’t handle (and it will tell us, we just need to practice listening and learning its messages) what we are essentially doing is throwing our homeostasis off. When we force our body systems into overdrive just so it can try to break down, process, and assimilate a food we are intolerant of, we might notice anything from acne to IBS. Whatever the messages your body gives you, however loud or quiet, remain attentive to them — these are indicators of how you can show up for your body in a more supportive way in the future, by avoiding or lessening your consumption of these foods.

EATING TO MAINTAIN BALANCE

In Ayurveda, everything we do either brings us closer to or pulls us away from our true nature; We use the Gunas or “qualities” to determine which impact our food will have on our body. The Twenty Gunas (which are ten pairs of opposite qualities) are: heavy/light, sharp/dull, hot/cold, oily/dry, slimy/rough, dense/liquid, soft/hard, mobile/stable, gross*/subtle, cloudy/clear. *The word “gross,” in this context, refers to something immediately obvious and visible without difficulty, large in size.

For example, if we are congested we are probably experiencing qualities like heavy, dull, and cold. So what we need are foods that introduce the light, sharp, and hot qualities.

Some Heavy/Dull/Cold Foods — cheeses, wheat, dairy, cashews, yogurt, milk, ice cream, meats, avocados, dates, sweet potatoes, eggs, cucumbers, okra, potatoes.

Some Light/Sharp/Hot Foods — Onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, chilis, lettuce, turnips, lemons, kiwis, ginger, cloves, cayenne, mustard greens.

Like increases like & opposites balance.

Drinking an iced latte in the middle of winter when you have a cold will only increase the qualities that perpetuate congestion and sluggishness. Alternatively, drinking a hot tea of ginger, lemon, and honey will counteract the qualities already present in your body.

PRIORITIZING PRANA

You might be familiar with the quote from Michael Pollan, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” This quote illustrates an approach to food that is incredibly Ayurvedic, but specifically the last part, “mostly plants,” is what deserves our attention when talking about Prana.

Prana is life-force. It is the energy of our food, obtained from the Sun (our one true celestial power source). Suffice it to say, if we want to experience a life full of energy and potency, we need to consume Prana. The way I ensure that I’m consuming Prana is by asking myself if what I am about to eat was grown/cultivated in nature under the Sun? As the Sun is our great sustainer, our eternal flame, our OG AA Battery, we want to fuel our bodies with foods that have inherited as much of its power as possible. This will enable us to show up for our lives fully and enthusiastically.

Canned and frozen foods have some Prana, but much has been lost in the process of canning/freezing. Most processed and packaged foods do not have Prana. Leftovers have less Prana than food that is freshly cooked. The less time it takes for food to get from the field to your plate, the more Prana you will end up eating.

Consider this . . .

How does your body react to foods you are intolerant of?

When you notice that you are feeling unbalanced, do you choose foods that make you feel better or worse?

Does the food you eat make you feel energized and nourished from within?

Life is for the living, and we should absolutely enjoy the tasty pleasures that bring us joy. Ayurvedic wisdom shows us the way, but it doesn’t demand we live a life of rigidity. It merely suggests moderation and awareness.

I am very much looking forward to plates and plates (and plates) of stuffing, pumpkin pie, Malley’s chocolate-covered pretzels, green bean casserole, chocolate chip cookies, cheese platters, coffee for dessert, and much much more. And I will be eating many holiday meal leftovers! Try and stop me!

The beautiful thing is, Ayurveda would never.

Let us remain present, mindful, and affectionately understanding.

And let us FEAST!

ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः

Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

(Om, Peace, Peace, Peace)

For more Ayurvedic insights, follow me on Instagram @Avaleben

Sugar, Sugar Everywhere…

Sugar, Sugar Everywhere…

In the United States, sugar is everywhere and in everything. Oftentimes sugar is an added ingredient that just doesn’t make sense. The daily recommendation for sugar intake over 2 years of age is less than 10% of your daily calories. But, it can be found in your breakfast cereal, in your crackers, in your flavored water, and your cup of soup. Sugar has taken over in food production and is a double-edged sword. It may worsen health, but it tastes really good, and sugary foods fly off grocery store shelves. So, this means the average adult American who consumes 2,000 calories a day should be eating less than 200 calories of sugar a day. Children under the age of two should not consume any processed sugar.

To put that into better perspective, a 12 oz can of soda pop can have 8 teaspoons or more of sugar. This translates into 128 calories of sugar or more in one sitting from one product. The average American is estimated to consume 270 calories of sugar (17 teaspoons) daily. As Americans, we know sugar is everywhere. With sugar so readily available and easily consumed, it can’t possibly be that bad. Or can it?

What Counts as Sugar?

Sugar is any sort of sweetener including cane sugar, beet sugar, molasses, honey, maple syrup, etc. Simple carbohydrates (carbs) can also be considered sugar as the body easily converts those carbs into glucose in the bloodstream, otherwise known as blood sugar. Glucose is what your cells need to function. Now, there are more complexities and nuances on this topic, but for the scope of this article, the goal is to keep things simple.

When food shopping, many of the packaged foods on the shelf have added sugars which is where people can get into trouble. Processed foods can have added sugars like brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, inverted sugar, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, trehalose, and turbinado sugar. There are also artificial sweeteners that can be added to packaged foods to make them taste better and be produced more cheaply.

Many processed foods, or foods that don’t occur “as is” in nature, have added sugars. This helps the products taste better which means the manufacturer can sell more and profit goes up. The following are commonly consumed items that tend to be higher in sugar:

  • Soda pop, energy drinks, and sports drinks
  • Candy/chocolate bars
  • Fruit drinks
  • Ice cream and other dairy desserts
  • Baked goods such as cakes, cookies, brownies, donuts, pies, cobblers, etc.
  • reakfast items like toaster pastries, breakfast cereal, and yogurt

Why is Sugar Bad

It’s important to realize humans developed through times when food wasn’t as plentiful as it is now. The body is geared towards sugar because in natural environments, it is a harder commodity to come by. Modern technology and international trade have changed this, making sugar readily and easily available whenever you want it. Sugar in human physiology naturally goes up in times of stress due to hormone release. The problem is when blood sugar remains high long term. Having a high-sugar diet increases the risk of being overweight or obese and having diabetes, cardiovascular disease, gout, dental cavities, ectopic fat accumulation, and even some cancers.

Sugar is inflammatory by its very nature. Normally, this is no problem as the body produces insulin which helps the sugar get to where it needs to go in the body. Insulin is also anti-inflammatory. When you eat too much sugar at once, or too much sugar on a daily basis over a long period of time, the pancreas can have a hard time keeping up which can lead to symptoms of hyperglycemia.

Early symptoms of high blood sugar include increased thirst and/or hunger, blurred vision, headache, or frequent peeing. If high blood sugar has been going on for a while (weeks to months), someone might experience fatigue, weight loss, yeast infections, slow-healing cuts/sores, or even skin changes or infections. If blood sugar levels are high/uncontrolled for a long time (months to years), this can lead to complications such as eye disease, kidney disease, nervous system disorders, gastroparesis, heart disease, and even stroke.

Best Ways to Track Your Sugar Intake

With as much sugar as is typical in the standard American diet, you might not be surprised to know blood sugar-related disease is on the rise. If your blood sugar is too high, it’s called hyperglycemia, and if it’s too low, it’s called hypoglycemia. This is something you can roughly track by using a calorie-tracking app. But, you should consider having a discussion about sugar intake with your doctor. Once you do, they may recommend getting a hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) which is a lab test that evaluates how much sugar you’ve had in your bloodstream over the last three months.

When your overall diet is high in sugar, and your pancreas has a hard time keeping up with the sugar over time, this makes your blood more “sugary.” Your red blood cells will pick up some of that sugar and become glycosylated. Glycosylation essentially turns red blood cells into “sugar donuts.” The HbA1c measures what percentage of your red blood cells have become “sugared donuts”. A normal percentage is 5.6% or lower. If you are at 5.7% or higher, you are trending towards metabolic disease and potentially diabetes. At this point, it’s even more important to have a discussion with your doctor or nutritionist to help find some changes that can help support a healthier lifestyle. For information on government guidelines for the American diet, you can view and download the Dietary Guidelines by clicking here.

How to Lower Blood Sugar Naturally Through Diet

It’s important to know how to help lower your sugar intake via the foods you eat. Eliminating a lot of processed foods in your diet can help support a healthy lifestyle as well as limit sugar intake. As noted above, a lot of sources of sugar are used in processed foods. By reducing/eliminating these in your diet, your overall health and blood sugar can improve. Also, eating foods such as vegetables and fruits are loaded with fiber and natural sugars which can help slow the delivery of sugar intake. A more whole food-based diet includes buying fresh or frozen produce, fruits, proteins, and fats from the store and preparing them at home. If you are a busy person with little time to cook, there are premade meal programs you can have delivered straight to your home. Alternatively, you can use cooking tools like an instant pot or air fryer to reduce cooking time. A tool that may be helpful is to consider the Glycemic Index, which lists how much sugar is in foods. It can help you choose more low-sugar options for your diet and can be found by clicking here.

Other Natural Methods to Consider

Additionally, it’s important to have a few ways you can support your body if you are dealing with or have already worked through sugar addiction/cravings. Below is a list of changes you can consider to support a healthy diet. If you have already had this conversation with your nutritionist or doctor, the content of these suggestions may already be familiar to you.

Use Natural Sugar Sources. Although sugar is sugar, natural sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, blackstrap molasses, coconut sugar, or date sugar are better options. Natural sugars tend to be digested more slowly, thus not creating as sudden of a spike in blood sugar. Artificial sweeteners are relatively new to the market and not well researched. While generally recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), artificial sweeteners have been linked to obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome.

Note: Honey should only be used as a sweetener in infants over 12 months of age due to the risk of botulism.

Supplement Support. A variety of herbs can help your body rebalance and maintain a healthy blood sugar. They can work by improving insulin sensitivity, increasing insulin output, lowering inflammation, and protect cells from damage due to their antioxidant quality. Bitter melon (Momordica charantia), hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa), ginger (Zingiber officinale), and onion (Allium sativum) are just a few options. You can just add some of these into your daily cooking or make a herbal cup of tea to enjoy. Additionally, nutrients such as chromium and vitamin D can also help support healthy blood sugar, especially in those who are deficient in these nutrients.

Exercise After Meals. Research has found getting some light movement such as walking 30-60 minutes after a meal can improve your blood sugar. Light exercise gets the blood flowing and the muscles working, meaning your muscles can uptake more sugar from the bloodstream. This eases the work your pancreas has to do.

What Should You Do?

If you are considering a healthier approach to life, reducing or cutting out sugar is one way you might do this. Though challenging, lowering inflammation and eating less processed foods can help you reach your wellness goals. As always, your first critical step should be to seek out a holistic doctor for medical information if you suspect you have sugar problems. As diabetes is a serious, life-threatening illness, getting a professional on board early on can help you change your lifestyle and habits to improve blood sugar and overall health.

References:

  • Center for Disease Control and Prevention. N.D. “Get the Facts: Added Sugars.” Retrieved Oct. 26, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/added-sugars.html
  • Cleveland Clinic. N.D. “Hyperglycemia (High Blood Sugar).” Revised Mar. 2, 2023. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9815-hyperglycemia-high-blood-sugar
  • Cleveland Clinic. N.D. “This Is Why Artificial Sweeteners Are Bad for You.” Retrieved Oct. 29, 2023. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/whats-worse-sugar-or-artificial-sweetener/
  • Huang Y, Chen Z, Chen B, Li J, Yuan X, Li J et al. 2023. “Dietary Sugar Consumption and Health: Umbrella Review.” BMJ; 381: e071609. doi:10.1136/bmj-2022-071609
  • Nakrani MN, Wineland RH, Anjum F. Physiology, Glucose Metabolism. 2023. StatPearls Publishing. Revised July 17. 2023. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560599/
  • The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. N.D. “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 Eighth Edition.” Retrieved Oct. 26, 2023. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-10/DGA_Cut-Down-On-Added-Sugars.pdf
  • Rabinovitz, Friedensohn, Leibovitz, Gabay, Rocas, & Habot. 2004. “Effect of Chromium Supplementation on Blood Glucose and Lipid Levels in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus Elderly Patients.” International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research; 74(3): 178-182. doi:10.1024/0300-9831.74.3.178
  • Reynolds, Andrew N, and Bernard J Venn. 2018. “The Timing of Activity after Eating Affects the Glycaemic Response of Healthy Adults: A Randomised Controlled Trial.” Nutrients; 10(11): 1743. doi:10.3390/nu10111743
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans; 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020
  • Yedjou CG, Grigsby J, Mbemi A, Nelson D, Mildort B, Latinwo L, Tchounwou PB. 2023. “The Management of Diabetes Mellitus Using Medicinal Plants and Vitamins.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences; 24(10): 9085. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms24109085

Image attribution:

spukkato/freepik.com

FOOD as the First Spiritual Practice

FOOD as the First Spiritual Practice

By Shannon Sabol, Holistic Health and Ayurveda Wellness Coach, www.gratefullifehealth.com

Someone recently asked me what the most life changing Ayurveda self-care practice was that I have incorporated over time, and although there has been many, I quickly responded with “blessing my food before I eat.” It helps me slow down, feel grounded, and step into a state of gratitude. A short and sweet blessing over my meal supports the first Pillar of Health in Ayurveda…FOOD!

Food is what nourishes your body, and is considered the very first step on your spiritual path. It is what gives you strength and energy to be your best self. Think of it this way…what you put into your body gives you the power to go out into the world and share your gifts. Food provides nutrients to your body temple, and reminds you that YES, you are sacred…you deserved to be nourished! Moving your body to a balanced state of health, raises consciousness (aka becoming more aware of who you are and how you show up in the world)! You are what you consume…literally. What you eat becomes energy, which becomes your consciousness.

Let me first acknowledge that food might be a sensitive subject for some folks. And let me just say…I see you…I hear you…I feel you. This is why I like to focus on the HOW to eat food, and support that first Pillar of Health, and your first step on your spiritual path.

HOW you eat is just as important as what you eat. How you eat affects your digestion, and according to Ayurveda, all disease orientates in the digestive system.

The HOW of eating is not really talked about in the West, but is a huge part of supporting digestion and overall health in Ayurveda. How we digest food is connected to how we can digest life.

How to SPIRITUALIZE YOUR FOOD

  • Prepare your meals with ritual care and call in the Elements before cooking! Earth – feel your feet on the ground, Water – wash your hands, Fire – light a candle, Air – take a deep breath, Ether – feel the space in your kitchen.
  • Be aware of your mental/emotional state when you are cooking. What you are feeling (anger, anxiety, joy, love, etc.) goes into the food you are cooking on a subtle, energetic level. Try to stay in a positive state, and infuse your food with LOVE. (This is also true, not just in preparing food, but noticing your mental/emotional state when you are eating food as well).
  • Eat at consistent meals times for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Your body is happier when it knows when it will be nourished.
  • Eat your meals sitting down, undistracted, alone or in good company. Avoid eating while standing up, walking, or driving (anything where you are mobile).
  • Bless your food 🙂 You do not need to be a religious person to bless your food. Blessing your meal can be as simple as giving thanks for the people, plants and animals involved in getting your food to your plate…or reflecting on the process of a seed turning into a plant, turning into food, turning into a meal, turning into energy, and eventually turning into consciousness!
  • Ayurveda recommends eating two cupped handfuls of food at every meal. Ideally, you want to fill up your stomach two-thirds, while leaving one-third for digestion (having space allows for the churning of food, and easier digestion). Eat until satisfied, not full.
  • Eat your largest meal midday. Your digestive fire (Agni) is strongest, when the sun is highest in the sky. I know this is not in alignment with our culture, where dinner is the largest meal, but give it try and see how you feel. Having a lighter dinner helps your body focus on healing and repairing, versus the body’s energy being diverted into physical digestion of food.
  • Take a deep breath when you are done with your meal. This is like a mini ceremonial closing of your meal (the blessing is the beginning, and a deep breath is the end), and your body knows it is done eating.

My recommendation is to pick one suggestion off this list to try, and stick with it for a week. Maybe it is one meal a day, or one meal a week.

For me, my breakfast is my non-negotiable, undistracted meal of the day. I eat my warm, spiced, and nourishing oatmeal seated at my dining room table. I bless my meal and sit in silence (no phone, laptop, tv or other device) while I enjoy every bite. I eat before my kids get up, making sure I have the quiet time and space to make my morning feel sacred and my breakfast feel like a ceremony.

The more care, attention, love, presence, and gratitude in preparing and eating your food, the more you can enhance your spiritual life. The teaching of Ayurveda says that food is the food of the body and love is the food of the soul, consciousness. Food = LOVE.

What Causes Disease?

What Causes Disease?

By Ava Wentzel, LMT, Ayurvedic Yoga Educator

“The Doshas are three: Vāta, Pitta, and Kapha. In their balanced state, they maintain the body. When imbalanced, they afflict the body with imbalances and diseases.”

 

-Charaka Samhitā, Vimānasthāna, 1.5

I like to think of the word disease as dis-ease, signaling a lack of easiness. Dis-ease implies that something has gotten in the way of your comfort. When there is dis-ease, there is not: Security, serenity, painlessness, effortlessness, simplicity. Put another way, when you are troubled you are not in a state of ease … when there is trouble, there is disease. So, what we want to know is: “Where is my trouble?”

According to Ayurveda, there are three causes of disease.

Pragyaparadh or Prajnaparadha — Offending your wisdom. Doing something that isn’t good for you, even though you know that it isn’t good for you, e.g. going for that cup of coffee even though you have a feeling* it’s going to give you acid reflux/an irritated gut/nervous sweats/a racing mind or heart. (*Note: Ayurveda is, at its core, practicing how to swiftly “tune in” to our body’s innate wisdom. This is the wisdom that is known so bone-deep that nobody really ever needs to teach it to us, we just need to remember it.)

Ask yourself … Are you offending your wisdom?

Are you staying up late when you know you need to be up early tomorrow? Are you eating foods that upset your stomach regularly and just dealing with the consequences? Are you drinking alcohol even though your stomach is in knots and your tongue is dry? Are you prioritizing everyone else before yourself? Are you offering your help to someone who you know takes advantage of you? Are you having a late night snack right before bed even though it gives you indigestion?

Asatmendriyartha samyoga — Improper contact of the senses with their objects, e.g., overindulging in treats, sleep, or television.

Ask yourself … Are you mistreating your sensory organs?

Are you listening to music too loudly in your headphones? Are you eating past the point of feeling full just because it tastes delicious? Are you ignoring tired eyes and looking at a bright screen late at night? Are you watching TV for hours on end? Are you in constant conversation or can you entertain silence? Are you over engaging in physical contact or do you regularly give yourself space to be alone?

Parinama or Kala — Living out of rhythm with nature, e.g. eating late at night when your digestive fire is low, eating foods that aren’t in season, or keeping up a wild schedule during the time of natural hibernation in winter.

Ask yourself … Are you living with Nature?

Are you eating foods that are growing in season or do you eat ice-cream in February? Do you wake up with the sun and go to sleep with the moon? Do you eat your biggest meal in the middle of the day? Are you favoring building, nourishing foods in Autumn and Winter? Are you favoring lymph-cleansing foods in Spring? How often do you look at the moon?

Personally, I struggle with overeating. I love food, what can I say! Usually, I am pretty good about stopping eating when I’m full but there are times when I snack away to my heart’s content even though I know I’m going to feel bloated or heavy or dull or get acid reflux. Listen, life is messy and nobody can make the best choice or the right choice one hundred percent of the time. But, what we can do is start to deepen our awareness of how we feel because this is ultimately the best indicator of whether or not something we are experiencing is working for us (or against us).

Our bodies are beautiful and divine instruments and we have the option of taking the time to learn how to work with them to make music. When we honor our feelings with our decisions, we are calling in our Higher Self. My teacher says, listen to your body while it’s whispering before it has to yell. Can you pinpoint what your body is yelling about, alerting you to the danger of disease? Better yet, can you listen closer to see if there is a whisper you have been ignoring?

ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः

Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

(Om, Peace, Peace, Peace)