Yesterday I took my daughter for a chilly but beautiful walk in Tandle Hill Country Park in Oldham. It was just what we needed after being cooped up earlier in the day. We both felt brilliant.
For those who love nature, it will be no surprise to learn that studies have found nature-based therapy dramatically improves mental wellbeing, so if you regularly feel under par, get yourself out there into nature more often. Many of us live in urban areas and rarely see a forest, mountain or waterfall, and it’s having detrimental effects on our health. Giving yourself a hefty dose of vitamin “green” has potent effects on:
how our cells function
our brain and nervous system
It’s even been found that post-surgical patients have improved recovery if exposed to a natural scene from the window of their room.
As for forest walking, studies find it has beneficial effects on:
heart and lung health
immunity and inflammation
blood sugar balance
So even though it may be cold, drag yourself away from that screen.
My younger daughter, who sometimes suffers with anxieties (as do we all from time-to-time) has discovered mindfulness as a way to calm her mind. It’s not the first time lately I’ve caught her lying on the rug in front of the fire, listening to a guided meditation on her laptop. She also has a favourite CD – ‘Rays of Calm’ by Christiane Kerr – that she listens to every night. It’s a series of visualisations that gently guide you into sleep.
The benefits of meditation are multiple:
– reduction of stress/anxiety, and even possibly depression.
– helps to improve self-image and promotes positivity.
– aids in developing a stronger understanding of yourself.
– helps improve memory and concentration, and may reduce age-related memory loss.
– aids with pain management by diminishing the perception of pain in the brain.
– may decrease blood pressure in older participants.
– increases speed of going to sleep and staying asleep.
Making meditation part of your day has so many benefits, we should all give it a go. It only takes a few minutes, and anyway, who says you don’t deserve some time to yourself, just to sit and be?
As for my daughter, judging by her very heavy breathing, it seems that meditation for the purpose of sleep improvement is definitely working, not just at night but at ANY time of the day!!
I’m currently reading ‘When the Body Says No’ by Gabor Mate. It’s an interesting and readable book about the effects of stress on our health outcomes. It describes not just the stresses we feel on a day-to-day basis, but also how our responses to stress might become hyper-reactive due to certain childhood experiences. Many people don’t even recognise their stress because it becomes part of who they are. This doesn’t mean it’s any less damaging however. He connects chronic stress (and our responses to it) as an underlying factor in every disease, including Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Motor Neurone Disease, Heart Disease, Cancer, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Diabetes and Arthritis.
The problem with chronic stress is that over time it starts to negatively affect the body. Constant cortisol release puts the body in ‘fight or flight’ mode. This means the body is in a state where it is ready to escape, so the focus is taken away from important systems such as:
– the immune system – the digestive system – the reproductive system
As a result, our body is:
– unable to digest food and absorb nutrients as efficiently as it should;
You might begin to suffer from more
– colds, allergies, food intolerances and other immune-related issues;
Or you might experience symptoms connected with hormone imbalances.
In high levels, cortisol becomes inflammatory, and chronic inflammation is linked with poor health outcomes.
Cortisol is also linked with energy and the sleep cycle. When it becomes dysregulated through stress you may start to experience symptoms such as insomnia and fatigue.
Taking more time to relax, meditate, and sleep well all have a beneficial effect on your stress levels, and ultimately your health. Put away your gadgets 90 minutes before bedtime too. You may use them as a way to relax, but they have proven detrimental effect on our stress levels.
There are also dietary factors that impact cortisol release, so remember, reducing stress is not only about what you do, and how you perceive and respond to stressors, but also include the quality of the foods (and drinks) you put into your mouth.
This may be the PERFECT Christmas present for yourself or someone you know. For January, I’m offering a mini nutrition assessment for £25 (normally £30).
Perhaps you’ve been thinking about improving your diet, or friends or family want to make changes, but need a little direction. This 45 minute session includes a diet diary analysis and focuses on a symptom you’d like to alleviate. You will leave the session with an understanding of the potential root cause of your symptom, how you may improve it through dietary and lifestyle changes, a nutrition plan and some supplementary recommendations. (NB. This assessment is NOT suitable for more complex or long-standing health conditions).
Please contact me on 07935 599449 to find out whether this service is suitable for you, or to book an appointment. Gift vouchers in values of £5 are also available through Physio & Therapies in Todmorden on 01706 819464.
I was excited to wake up today to see a friend of mine had posted on FB that she was having breakfast with me. I didn’t know what she was talking about at first – then I saw this picture. With my beady eyes staring at her the whole time she was eating, I’m surprised I didn’t actually put her OFF her breakfast!
Anyway, the article is basically about my daughter’s ill health, and how it led to me eventually taking the leap to become a nutritional therapist. If you’re interested, I’ll post the story below.
“Just eating healthily didn’t seem to be working for me or my daughter Lucy. She’d been born with a rare genetic condition – Pallister-Killian Syndrome – and health that deteriorated with her age (nervous tics, behavioural issues, anxiety, restless legs, stomach pain, throat swelling, and a chronic condition called Hidradenitis Suppurativa, which presents as large, recurrent abscesses). Dealing with an unwell, unhappy child, who was often in pain, also took it’s toll on me. I tried finding answers for years, and the doctors, though sympathetic, couldn’t always help. The tests they took, on the whole, came up clear. It was frustrating and I felt fatigued, anxious, and developed my own escalating set of symptoms (allergies, mood swings, bloating, joint pain, and weight gain), which were the negative effects of chronic stress on my immune, nervous and digestive systems.
For years, I suspected the answer might be dietary. As a baby, Lucy became fractious after feeding, so I tried improving our eating habits, and I saw benefits, but it wasn’t enough. By her teens, Lucy was on large doses of antibiotics, which led to further health decline.
Trying to find answers through scientific research wasn’t as helpful as I hoped. I found myself in a rabbit warren of information that was difficult for the inexperienced eye to fathom. I learned that, what worked for one group didn’t work for another, and what worked for others didn’t always work for us.
In 2014, I started a nutritional therapy diploma with the College of Naturopathic Medicine. I was certain there was a role for nutrition in improving health, but I needed the tools to do it. A few months in, now understanding I couldn’t be objective about my daughter’s or my own health, I employed a registered nutritional therapist, and finally, we made headway. At this time, Lucy’s abscesses were so unrelenting, the only option seemed to be drastic surgery to cut away areas of her skin and replace them with skin from other parts of her body. I didn’t want surgery, I wanted answers. Our nutritional therapist advised private functional testing – a stool test to check gut health for Lucy, urine tests to check my nutrient and neurotransmitter levels, and a finger-prick food intolerance test for both of us.
Nutritional therapy is an individual approach that investigates potential root causes of people’s symptoms to improve them. Dietary change is always comes first, but as this wasn’t effective in this instance, testing now highlighted imbalances in our bodies, as well as foods that contributed to our symptoms. The results guided which supplements and lifestyle changes were required. Since then, I’ve watched Lucy’s health blossom. Her issues are entirely eliminated or under better control. She’s calmer and happier. The same for me. The quality of our lives has improved exponentially. I can’t recommend the benefits of nutritional therapy enough, and love having the skills to make a huge difference to people’s lives. Nutritional therapy works on so many levels, and there’s nothing to lose, apart from a whole raft of negative symptoms.”
I really like the BANT Wellness Solution. It gives you clear guidelines as to what you should be eating on a day-to-day basis. Obviously, the suggestions are an outline, not an individual approach, and what suits one person, may not suit another. Some people, because of particular health issues, might struggle with fats or with too many fibrous vegetables (this is one area where I come in as a nutritional therapist, to find out the potential root causes for digestive issues such as these). However, for those who are healthy, or who want to improve their overall wellbeing, this plate is a great place to start.
People often ask me what a portion actually is. There are some great resources that can help with this, and I’ve linked them below. However, for a quick and easy visual approach, a portion of fruit and vegetables is how much you can fit into the cupped palm of your hand. So in terms of broccoli, this will be a couple of spears; for green peas, this will be about 3 tablespoons. For green leafy vegetables, however, it is slightly different – it is a compressed (measuring cup) when raw. A portion is not mounds and mounds, as some people imagine, so it is easier than you think to fit in your daily requirements.
In terms fruits and vegetable consumption, government guidelines are still 5-a-day, whilst the BANT plate suggests 7-a-day. Recent research has also found that 10-a-day is optimal. Though I wouldn’t suggest stressing yourself about getting in so many portions if your day is busy and it is difficult for you to do so, always bear in mind that health outcomes do improve for every portion you add to your day. I’d say that whenever you can, try to eat the higher limits of vegetable foods and when you can’t, just do your best. For me personally, I feel at my best when I eat around 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, but some days, it just ain’t happening. (Having said that – it is much easier to do so when you eat a plant-based diet anyway).
So here are the links I mentioned earlier.
This first link from the British Nutrition Foundation gives some great tips on adding 5 a day into your daily diet. This would definitely get you started on the route to better health:
This second link is a tick sheet for more easy visualisation of the fruits and vegetables you are eating. As variety is also key to good health, it encourages you to try a new fruit or vegetable every day. This is also from the British Nutrition Foundation, and though it can be used for adults, it’s particularly good for kids. Or how about the whole family getting involved. There is nothing more encouraging for a child than an adult as a good role model
In the last two posts I’ve talked about the nutritional benefits of green leafy vegetables, and how to get more of them into your diet. Today, I finish off this topic with a few more suggestions of when and how you can enjoy these as a part of your daily diet.
Make a rocket soup! It’s absolutely packed to the brim with leafy greens yet you’d never know it. It’s also so easy, yet so fresh and delicious.
Pack a wrap with some hummus and broken walnuts, and a handful of spinach, rocket or watercress. Whatever floats your boat!
Mashed potatoes or smashed new potatoes are great with a dollop of wholegrain mustard and some chopped watercress. It adds a whole new dimension of peppery-ness that you’ll love!
One thing I really love to do is have a delicious plant-based cooked breakfast with some freshly wilted spinach on the side. It’s really fresh, and looks gorgeous on the plate with the roasted vine tomatoes, stuffed mushrooms, beetroot falafel, avocado and beans (sorry, but you’ve got to have beans!)
Steam a large head of broccoli (or two) until cooked but with some bite. Rinse under cold water to keep the fresh green colour, then keep in the fridge to add as a side to meals, or throw into stir fries, or use as a crudite in hummus or dips. Broccoli is also delicious roasted, as it really seems to intensify the flavour.
So, there’s plenty there to keep you going.
Remember, try to gradually increase your intake to 2-3 portions a day. To keep to it, plan in advance, and when you’re on the go, take your greens with you.
And I’m not just talking about salad vegetables… there’s no reason why you have to eat your cooked greens hot. Take them in your lunch box mixed in with noodles or in a quinoa salad. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Next time, I’ll be talking about exactly what a portion is, and how many portions a day you should be eating each day for optimal health.
If you found the information here useful or if you have any requests for future blog-posts, please post in the comments below.