Tag Archives: Making Life Good recommends

Improve your digestion, improve your health

If you have ever experienced a stomachache, you would likely want the pain to end soon and you may have a visceral understanding that digestive health is important to well being. On the other hand, if you hardly ever experience digestive issues, then you may take your ease of living almost for granted and be surprised when faced with the need to adjust your eating habits or lifestyle. What we eat and what happens thereafter is a living relationship we have with food and ourselves. Ideally, we have a good appetite to seek and enjoy food regularly to nourish ourselves, and after we have eaten, the food is digested and assimilated in a reasonable amount of time, with the waste eliminated easily. Ideally, food goes in one end and comes out the other, nice and easy.

There is wide variability in digestive capacity. Some people seem to be able to drink black coffee, alcohol and eat all the spicy food they want. Others seem to have a limited variety of food they can eat without consequence. Some people are very diet oriented and are always seeking to find more control on their diet to reach various goals they have. The most interesting explanation I have read in terms of diet seeking behaviour was in a Traditional Chinese Medicine textbook which references a deficiency in digestive ability causes the person to become overly obsessed with their diet. It could also be a chicken or the egg question, does the diet seeking behaviour start in the body or the mind? You certainly need plenty of mental energy to plan and adhere to a diet, especially restrictive ones. Culturally, we seem to be constantly drawn to the latest diet that promises weight loss, brain function, more energy along with age defying benefits.

I consider the digestive system to have several components- a mechanical, structural portion, a chemical component, and a neurological component. The mouth, tongue, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small and large intestines would be the mechanical structural component. The chemical component would be digestive enzymes, stomach acid and the various secretions needed to digest and assimilate food, and the gut bacteria could included here as well. The neurological portion of the digestive system is a component we are learning more about, which could encompass our mental and emotional health, one example being the vagus nerve (here’s an interesting video on the vagus nerve: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5d6e_Un6dv8) starting in the brain with feedback also coming through the gut. There is the enteric nervous system exists within the gut and has many mechanisms of feedback and function. We need all of these components functioning well to have optimal digestion. The food we eat is a variable we have the most control over. What eat and how it affects our health is a non linear equation and process, so there are a many aspects to consider.

We can all strive to have optimal digestive health which in simple terms is being able to enjoy food with a healthy appetite, digest the food eaten with ease, feel energized, have no bloating, gas, pain, and eliminate the waste material on a daily basis with ease and minimal smell.

Having studied nutrition and Traditional Chinese Medicine and knowing the benefits of healthy eating, I don’t like to prescribe diets to anyone. I believe it is best for a person to improve their eating habits by becoming more mindful of their body, appetite and lifestyle. I do my best to lead by example at every opportunity- I order the side of veggies when we’re out for dinner, I balance the sweet treats I like to enjoy with exercise, and I work at having a good relationship with food, which involves being enthusiastic about eating.

In cases of illness, allergies or skin conditions, it is helpful to make dietary changes to help alleviate the condition. In my acupuncture practice, the most common benefit experienced after relaxation is improvement in digestion. A patient may not come in with a digestive complaint, but they are able to note that their digestion improves with acupuncture treatment. It could be less propensity toward soft stool or diarrhea, improvement in acid reflux symptoms, relief from bloating, constipation, gas, or pain. The question becomes, how does acupuncture affect digestion? Acupuncture improves digestion by stimulation of the nervous system directly through the selected acupuncture points and indirectly through the relaxation response, which activates the rest and digest branch of the nervous system. The nervous system can respond instantaneously, although habitual stimulation for an optimal or dysfunctional state needs training over time.

Your digestive system is also very much related to your immune system, so improving digestion can also improve your immune health, which also relates to the skin. Your skin is the exterior of your body and the stomach and intestines are the exterior tube within the body. It takes processing before what we eat is taken into our internal organs. We are what we eat along with when and how we eat. We need to eat food for fuel and to rebuild/repair our cells on a daily basis. We also need adequate amounts of clean water to thrive. Food needs to be eaten at appropriate times to provide the right fuel for activity. Often overlooked, food is best eaten in a relaxed state to optimize digestion, which is a process that requires energy itself.

The stomach needs to be warm with adequate acid to have optimal digestive fire power. It appears that no one has improving digestive fire as they get older, the tendency is for digestive power to grow weaker with age. There is an element of habit and lifestyle that influences this slowing down. For example, eating cold, raw food requires more digestive energy and over time can cause backup, diminish digestive power and create further weakness. Consistent overeating also causes backup in the digestive system over time. The general thinking in TCM is to eat warm, cooked foods most of the time, especially in winter and have raw foods more in the summer for optimal digestion. This is dietary advice I have been able to adhere to for many years myself, as I enjoy real food and liquid meals like smoothies are unappealing to me. Moderate amounts of all foods can be healthy. Vegetables and fruit are required on a daily basis.

Whether you experience digestive issues or not, it is to your benefit to optimize your digestive health through your diet and lifestyle. Exercise is hugely beneficial, as it maintains circulation and encourages regular elimination. If you need help, consider acupuncture as a form of treatment that stimulates your nervous system to affect the digestive system and naturopathy as a form of treatment that can modulate the digestive system chemically through supplementation prescribed. It is best to consult a health professional who can assess your needs and help tailor your diet and lifestyle, so you can feel your best. Jumping onto the latest diet is not a long term formula for optimal health and wellness, anything restrictive or extreme is generally unsustainable and could cause health issues. Quote me on this: It is healthier to have some pizza, sweets and an occasional drink than the ‘achievement’ of the no sugar, low carb and no alcohol program. Cheers!

Recipe: Yellow Split Pea Soup

I’ve tried a few different split pea soups in my time, sometimes they are very tasty and other times not great. I’ve tried to make split pea soup myself a few times and have failed miserably with hard peas after a long cooking time. Long cooked, hard split peas are difficult to digest, highlighting the point that food needs to be cooked well to aid digestion. I looked through cookbooks, and various websites to finally learn that it is best to soak and cook the peas before adding them to the soup. In the pre cooking process, it is likely the peas turn into mostly yellow mush, so the soup turns out like it has been pureed.

Having more plant based foods is a healthy choice, so here is a quick and easy recipe for a flavourful yellow split pea soup:

1 cup yellow split peas, soaked overnight

1 onion, finely diced

1 carrot, finely diced

1 stalk celery, finely diced

1 jalapeno pepper (seeds removed), finely diced

1 tomato, finely chopped

1 small piece of ginger peeled

2 tablespoons coconut oil

4 cups vegetable broth

1 tsp curry powder

salt and pepper to taste

1 lime, juiced

In a small pot, bring soaked and rinsed split peas to a boil in 1.5 cups of water, simmer until the desired tenderness is reached.

In a large pot, heat coconut oil and lightly sauté onions, celery, carrot and jalapeño until tender, then add chopped tomato. Season with a little salt. Add cooked split peas and a bit more salt. Add vegetable broth, curry powder and ginger, bring to a light boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Stir in lime juice and season to taste. Enjoy topped with some chopped cilantro

Making Life Good Recommends August 2020

It has been lovely to enjoy the Canadian summer weather even although things are so different than summers past. Outdoor reading is best at this time.

Here are some books I enjoyed and recommend this month:

Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan. Another fun and frivolous novel by the author of Crazy Rich Asians. Quite perfect escapism while travel is limited

Becoming Supernatural by Joe Dispenza. This book was a truly inspiring read that combines technical understanding of what happens during deep meditation and real life stories of healing. Great reminder to meditate and open your mind daily.

Stand Out of Our Light by James Williams. Great quick read that shows us some ways technology affects our attention and our lives along with some philosophy

In relation to technology I have enjoyed many episodes of this podcast, this is of particular interest since I do not appreciate the auto recommendations on you tube or spotify. This podcast explains what is behind the autoplay:

https://www.humanetech.com/podcast/4-down-the-rabbit-hole-by-design

Being in the field of natural health, I have observed some a disturbing trend of adamant misinformation along with a lack of critical thinking. I’ve been following the Conspirituality podcast and it brings great discussion:

Making Life Good Recommends July 2020

This month marks 20 years of being a fitness trainer for me. With a worldwide pandemic, life certainly is very different, which requires adaptation and at the same time maintaining our health and fitness is more important than ever. Traditional chinese medicine acupuncture will soon be an additional service I offer. Fitness remains my first love and I very much hope to get back to teaching classes again soon.

It has been my habit to read every book that inspires me or comes highly recommended for many years now. I started keeping track of what I read over a decade ago when a friend asked how many books I read in a year. My answer was 20 and when I actually checked to be sure I was telling the truth…it was the truth and the number of books has only increased over the years. What is measured, improves-

Here are my book recommendations for this month:

Atomic Habits by James Clear-great book that breaks down how we can make effective small changes that add up to be consistent new habits that vastly improve our live.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg-I cannot recommend Atomic Habits without also recommending this book, as it was also an excellent perhaps slightly more entertaining book. I very much appreciated learning about the ways our habits are shaped without our knowing.

The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols-this book came to by attention based on this clip: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/problem-thinking-know-experts In this current environment of rampant misinformation, I found this book to be helpful in comprehending how we came to this sad state of affairs. I laughed a few times and also realized the gravity of having large groups of people be led by their feelings and bypassing any form of reasoning. One of the recommendations Tom Nichols had for having a more functional democracy is for the American population to be more engaged in civics and understand their political system. Interestingly, just before finishing the book, I learned of A Starting Point platform which Captain America (Chris Evans) launched for the purpose of educating and engaging more of the population https://www.astartingpoint.com

Being in the field of health and fitness, it has been so disheartening to find so much misinformation being shared on social media. This podcast was incredibly informative in understanding the forces behind the phenomenon: https://rebelwisdom.podbean.com/e/can-truth-survive-big-tech-tristan-harris/

This TED talk is shorter: https://www.ted.com/talks/tristan_harris_how_a_handful_of_tech_companies_control_billions_of_minds_every_day?language=en

So we really must be mindful of where we place our attention, plus sanity doesn’t sell

Mindful isolation living

Our daily in life in Canada changed very suddenly a couple weeks ago with the closing of schools and businesses. Having seen the lockdown that happened in China a couple months ago, it seemed implausible that we would see such restriction of freedom here in North America with our cultural norms being so different. When I saw the news of lockdown for friends in Italy, I learned there is no discrimination for a virus. This is a global issue that will be resolved most effectively with the collective cooperation of humanity as a whole.

The field of health and wellness involves connecting with and being around groups of people. Traditional chinese medicine which I’m about to start practicing involves physical touch for diagnosis. It has been a real adjustment to learn and accept that work I know as essential to being healthy is considered a health risk at the moment. All human contact is viewed as a potential health risk for now. How will this affect our psyche in the long term?

How do we cope with our world being so suddenly disrupted? Surely, we will be distracted on some level and we need to find a way to bring ourselves back to balance. The best way to optimize emotional, mental, physical balance and health is to focus on what is within our control. Top priority being how we utilize our time. Depending on our field of work and family situation, we may be busier than usual, adjusting to working from home or completely out of work with time on our hands. For all situations, we need to own our time and cultivate acceptance for the present moment.

Here are some mindful habits I recommend to feel more at peace at this uncertain time:

  • Practice meditation daily, any form for any length of time. I’ve made it a habit to start and end the day with meditation with additional short pieces at sunset and 3 minutes at 9pm daily to join in a collective meditation with friends around the world.
  • Prioritize sleep. With a pandemic illness circulating around the world and no treatment available, the defence is to be as strong and healthy as you can. Sleep is crucial to having optimal health and wellness.
  • Limit the amount of news or social media you consume as it can affect your emotional/mental well being and focus. I decided to stay away from one form of social media and notice feeling much better.
  • Get into a consistent hand washing habit and sanitize your smart phone and computer keyboard with alcohol frequently
  • Maintain healthy eating habits-drinking water, eating veggies and fruit daily, minimizing caffeine intake, and moderate alcohol intake
  • Get fresh air and physical activity daily. We have limited access to fitness facilities at the moment and we’ll need to be creative with the resources and space we have for now. A yoga mat is sufficient to practice yoga, some weights, gliders, tubing, anything that works in your space for strength training.
  • Be creative, try something new! Cook, dance, draw, garden, sing, write, anything that inspires you. Take the opportunity to work on something you’ve always meant to.
  • Most importantly connect with family and friends any way we can, practice gratitude together and reflect on how fortunate we are to be Canadian and we are all in this together with the world.

Recipe: Banana chocolate chip walnut bites

I love sweet treats and sugar. I may the only fitness and wellness professional to publicly share this feeling. There is a spectrum of healthy sweet treats and indulgences. I have been working with some gluten free banana bread recipes lately and decided to make these coconut flour bites in a silicone mini muffin mold. There is a much higher likelihood of success in gluten free baking if smaller pans are used. I have enjoyed these little treats that are low in sugar and high on taste as a bit of fuel on the go to keep me going between meals.

3 very ripe bananas, mashed

2 eggs

2-3 tablespoons melted coconut oil

1 tablespoon or less honey or to taste

1/2 cup coconut flour

2 tablespoons dark chocolate chips

2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together bananas, eggs, coconut oil and honey. Add coconut flour. Stir together with a wooden spoon just until blended. Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts. Spoon batter into mini muffin mold. Bake approximately 20 min or until tops are slightly brown. Cool and enjoy. Keeps in an airtight container for a few days refrigerated.

Taste Experiences of 2015

There were many awesome taste experiences throughout the year in 2015. Here they are in no particular order:

Baklava from Patisserie Royale-after reading a glowing review in the Globe and Mail for the fine pastries at Patisserie Royale, I insisted our family go and buy a box right away. These pastries have become a new family tradition and we all particularly love the pistachio royale for the layers of crispy lightly honey soaked buttery deliciousness. http://patisserieroyale.com

Squash soup at Foxley-Just as the weather started to turn cool, the special at Foxley one night was squash soup with coconut milk and it was so incredibly delicious, I had to make it again myself! I am developing the recipe to share. 207 Ossington Avenue, Toronto

Harira soup in Morocco-I tried to have many samples of harira, a traditional Moroccan soup while in Marrakech this year, but didn’t manage to have as much as I liked to see different styles. However, I did develop a vegetarian recipe I quite enjoy. http://www.vivianlaw.ca/recipe-moroccan-chickpea-and-lentil-soup-harira/

Dinner at Al Fassia-this restaurant run by Moroccan women comes highly recommended by several sources and the dining experience is fabulous. From a delicious cocktail to all the plates of extremely tasty moroccan food. Must try if ever in Marrakech.

Lemon mousse at Cava-We first tried this dessert late summer and declared it a winner with the flavours of tart lemon mixed with a little jalapeño jelly, heavenly! www.cavarestaurant.ca 

String Chaat at Pukka-a friend introduced me to this salad early this year, as she thought I may be able to recreate it. I was able to identify the delicious threads of apple, carrot, cabbage and rice crisps in a nicely spiced dressing. However, I have only gone back to Pukka to eat it again and would recommend it everyone. www.pukka.ca

Big Mac bao at Dailo-These mini asian style ‘big macs’ are the delightful work of chef Nick Liu, who serves these at the upstairs bar of his great restaurant Dailo. They come complete with special sauce and mini frites. http://dailoto.com

Banh Mi at Baguette and Co-These delicious vietnamese sandwiches were discovered by chance when we took our relatives to High Park and the little sign of this sandwich shop caught my eye. We later stopped for some sandwiches and they are fantastic! The owner explained that their specially sourced bread makes all the difference. 1643 Dupont Street, Toronto

Laurent Perrier Rose-One night in June, a couple friends and I attended a tasting event of sparkling wine. One standout for us was the Laurent Perrier rose for it’s lovely pink sparkly delicious enjoyment!

Andale salad-I needed lunch while waiting for a flight at the San Francisco airport and was pleasantly surprised by the Andale salad, which consisted of slow roasted chicken, black beans, avocado, salsa, lettuce, cilantro, lime, mango and cheese in a tortilla bowl. This salad left such an impression, I have started constructing my own version ever since I had it in May.

Carnitas bowl at Cantina Grill-Another airport food discovery. While waiting for a connection at Denver airport, I stopped in for an early lunch at Cantina Grill and just didn’t know what to order. The lady behind the counter suggested I have the carnitas bowl and was it ever a great recommendation! The mix of romaine lettuce, rice, pinto beans, carnitas, cilantro, jalapeño, lime was the perfect satisfying lunch. Rick Bayless has a great technique to make carnitas on your own. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kATDHi2M32Y This all in one bowl is one of my favourite food discoveries of 2015, found at an airport!

Apple Tart at Chabrol-This is a new discovery and I managed to share an apple tart with friends and family three times within a week. The house made puff pastry is light and crisp underneath layers of thin sliced perfect sweet tart apple topped with lovely calvados sabayon. Truly the best ever and masterful work by chef Doug Penfold. 90 Yorkville, Toronto

 

Step up your Indoor Workouts

Mid to late November is the perfect time to organize and step up our indoor workouts. I notice that time seems to speed up during these last few weeks of the year. My advice is to consciously step up your exercise routine now to prevent an unnecessary new years resolution.

I must admit to low attendance at the gym myself since I have been running outdoors for over 8 months and so enjoy being outside. It is a major adjustment for me to create an indoor work out routine now. I feel such resistance to going inside to work out it seems ridiculous, considering I am a professional fitness trainer! However, this is the purpose of this piece, to share motivation to get moving more at this crucial time of year-it is absolutely necessary!

Make an appointment with yourself for yourself to head to the gym now. Your body will thank you, as you are guaranteed to feel better in every way and your waistline will expand less or remain the same over the holidays. Plus, you can enjoy yourself more while you are taking care of yourself, and start the new year with the right habits already in place. Making Life Good recommends stepping up your workouts in November and really enjoying the holiday season!

Relax and improve your posture

A relaxing pose that helps improve your posture

A relaxing pose that helps improve your posture

Posture is a concern and priority for many people. My friend Dr Blessyl says your posture is like a physical calling card you exhibit to the world. Stand tall and feel confident. Regular life has us sitting at a desk, driving a car, looking down at a cell phone, which tends to round our shoulders forward, which easily creates tension in the neck and shoulder areas and can also impede our breathing.

The relaxing pose featured in the photo above is borrowed from restorative yoga and can be practiced anywhere you can lie down with a rolled towel placed across your upper back underneath your armpits. If you find that your neck is extending back too far back or you feel uncomfortable, try placing a small folded towel underneath your head to improve your alignment. You can also bend your knees and have your feet flat on the floor if your lower back is not comfortable. The important point is to feel comfortable and at ease.

Just about everyone I have taught this pose to finds it relaxing and beneficial, as the position reverses shoulders that are rounded forward by opening through the chest, heart and arms, which also affects the heart and lung meridians according to the traditional chinese medicine map of the body. Physically being in an open hearted posture helps us to be more in tune with ourselves, since the heart can be considered the centre of our personality. In addition, the gentle back bend in the thoracic and lumbar spine helps the accessory muscles of breathing to relax, which can bring our breath pattern to a more optimal relaxed, effortless state.

Taking the time to relax in this position can also benefit your posture through gentle stretching across the chest, shoulders and arms and relaxation of the traps and neck-areas in which so many of us experience tension. Since this position is comfortable, you can easily remain in the pose for more than 5 minutes or as long as you wish. With consistent practice, you may experience improved breathing and posture, which makes life good!

 

A Taste of Morocco: Orange, date and mint

On a recent trip to Morocco, I noticed that there was an abundance of oranges. Seville orange trees, fantastic fresh orange juice at breakfast, and offerings of sliced orange topped with cinnamon as a dessert option (which I did not order, as pastries beckoned). Dates were also widely available in many varieties. Mint tea was a beverage of choice for refreshment of the palate and to aid digestion. Orange, date and mint, tastes of Morocco.

Looking through recipes when I came home, one that immediately appealed to me was a date and orange salad in Plenty More, and of course it was almost featured in an episode on Morocco. I made my own version of the salad with sugar snap peas, orange, dates and mint, which was tasty, but I felt I would prefer the orange, date and mint on its own…possibly as a healthy dessert

I really enjoyed the pure flavour combination of fresh orange, chopped dates, fresh mint and a dash of cinnamon as a refreshingly delicious dessert. Here are the preparation guidelines for a single serving (multiply as needed for additional servings)

One orange

1-2 dates, chopped

5-6 fresh mint leaves

dash of cinnamon

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Slice the top and bottom off the orange, then remove the skin following the curve of the orange. Slice orange across the segments and arrange on a plate. Top with chopped dates, sprinkle cinnamon to taste, then top with chopped fresh mint, and enjoy.

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