Mexican Medley

Mexican Medley

This is one of my favorite meals for breakfast.  It requires a limited amount of time to make, can be doubled to have again another day, and keeps me going on those days that require a lot of energy.

Ingredients:

Olive Oil 1 T
Carrot, sliced thin 1
Onion, chopped 1/2 med
Zucchini, quartered lenghtwise then sliced 1/2 reg
Crookneck Squash, quartered lengthwise then sliced 1/2 reg
Reb Bell Pepper, sliced into 1″ pieces 1/2 reg
Cumin 1/2-1 tsp
Aleppo Pepper 1/2-1 tsp
Salsa 3.5 oz
Refried Beans, natural  1/2 of 16 oz can
Spinach, chiffonade 1-2 C
Egg, poached or Fresh Guacamole 1 or 2 eggs or 1 T Guacamole

Preparation:

In a med/lg saucepan add olive oil and sauté carrot, onion, zuccini, crookneck squash, bell pepper over medium heat for a few minutes. Add cumin, pepper and salsa. Cover and cook until vegetables soften; about 8 minutes on med/low. Add beans and cook an additional 5-8 minutes until heated through. Place spinach in bottom of bowl. Top with bean mixture. Place poached egg or guacamole on top. S&P to taste.  Garnish with cilantro if you like.

Serves 1-2 depending on how hungry you are!

My neck is killing me!

 

You’ve been sitting at your desk for hours on end.  You get up and think ‘wow, is my neck sore!’  Wonder why?  Let’s take a look at the more common thing that happens over time from extended sitting.

Initially you may start pretty upright in your chair.  The day is fresh and you are ready to go.  As the day progresses you start to slump a bit. The lower back starts to round, causing your abdominal and chest areas to come forward and shorten.  Naturally your head follows and starts to move forward and closer to the computer screen.  Your eyes need to see what you are reading so you slightly tilt your head up.  All these moves are unconscious yet by the time you get out of your chair your entire body positioning has been compromised.  After months or years of this poor posture, the muscles become adapted to this new position.  head-forward-posture

So what?

To begin, a natural position for the head is to be directly above the shoulder joint.  When it is sitting in this position, it requires the least amount of energy for your head to rest comfortably.  However as that head starts to move forward of that ideal posture, your muscles have to take over in holding the head up against gravity.  It may not sound like a big deal but according to Dr. Renee Calliet for every inch your head is forward of normal alignment it adds 10 pounds of pressure on the neck muscles.  Over time as the head migrates further forward it can result in 30 pounds of additional pressure on the muscles of the neck!  Talk about a heavy load!  Our head already weighs between 10-12 pounds on average and now we are throwing an additional 30 pounds or more onto it!  No light matter.

So who’s doing the work?  It is the neck muscles that run directly down the spine that end up taking the load.  Not only do they have to work hard to hold up that head, they are spending a great deal of unnecessary energy to do so.  That energy results in an output of waste products including lactic acid.  At the same time the muscles are tight from contracting, which results in decrease of blood flow causing those waste products to accumulate and irritate the nerve endings.  Pain!  Over time the spine will start to adapt to the position and finally recruits the body to lay down some extra connective tissue to assist.  Have you seen people with that lump on the back of their neck at about shoulder height?  It is called a dowager’s hump and is primarily a result of this head forward posture.

This is only part of the story.  Remember I mentioned that you tend to tilt your head up to see the screen?  Our body naturally realigns itself to bring the eyes to the horizon by tilting that head slightly up at the base of the scull.  There are muscles there called the suboccipital muscles that hold your head in that position.  When they are shortened for a long period of time they can develop hyperirritable nodules that can actually cause headaches – like a tight band around your head at the eye level.  Ever had one of those headaches?

At the same time there are muscles in the front of the neck that end up short.  One in particular – the sternocleidomastoid (SCM for short) can also cause
temporal headaches and jaw pain.  Another group called the scalene muscles can press on the nerves that innervate the arm, causing numbness and tingling in the arm and/or hand.  It is a bit more complicated than this but you get the picture.

I could go on about the resulting effects of the chest muscles but let’s wait for another time.  For now, we should look at things that you can do to get yourself out of this positioning.  Here are a few tips:

  • Make sure your chair has correct back support. You need to have a slight curve in your low back or you are going to round that low back which will result in rounding your chest, bringing your head forward and starting a barrage of other problems over time.
  • Make sure your keyboard is in a position in front of you where your arms can relax by your sides with the elbows bent to 90 degrees. If your keyboard is too high, you will elevate the shoulders.  If it is too low, you will be more likely to round that upper back, cave in your chest and end up with your head forward.
  • If you work on a laptop, you might want to consider a monitor so you can look directly ahead rather than down onto the laptop screen.
  • Get up and move regularly! The longer we sit, the more our posture starts to get compromised.  Even if it is just a quick walk around your desk, when you sit back down you will hopefully be sitting more erect.
  • Stretch out the neck muscles in the front, sides and back of the neck.
  • Do some door stretches to stretch out the pectoralis muscles.
  • Don’t know the ideal positioning for these stretches? Check out my eBook.  It will give you full details for stretching these muscles and much more.
  • Think of lifting up the top of your head towards the ceiling to elongate the neck and slightly tuck your chin in towards your neck.
  • Set a timer every hour or two to recheck your sitting position and realign yourself accordingly.

If you are not sure if you have your head forward of ideal alignment, ask someone to take a picture of you from the side.  You may be surprised!

As I am sure you know, sitting is only one of the culprits for that head ending up in a forward position.  Many other factors can play a role including imbalanced musculature in the upper body and hips.  If you have chronic neck pain or regular headaches you may want to check with a physical therapist or neuromuscular therapist to assist in assessing your situation.  You may also want to look into forms of exercise that will help you rebalance your body such as yoga, Pilates or Essentrics.  Not only will these help in getting the blood flowing but over time will assist you in getting your body properly aligned.

These are just a few tips to get your started.

I hope you found this helpful!

To your health,

Julie

Movement is Key!

We started talking about movement last post.  I’d like to continue on that subject because, as mentioned, we have become way too sedentary for our health.  Even an hour or two of daily exercise can’t make up for the 8-10+ hours of static sitting that has become way too commonplace for most people!

With movement comes the stimulation of the musculature and various cellular processes throughout the body that keep all our systems functioning at a higher level.  We get more fuel to all of our cells, our pancreas does a better job of balancing out blood sugar levels, our brain gets fed the glucose it needs to function properly, our digestive system continues to work and our muscles get the blood they need to both flush out waste products plus bring new oxygen and nutrients to function properly.  And, as we talked last time, to assist with keeping full length in the muscles that tend to stay short after prolonged sitting.

The above is to just name a few of the many actions our body does when we keep moving as opposed to too much sitting.  Did you know that even getting up and moving your own body weight around for a few minutes will start your system moving again?  This is why it is ideal to walk around at breaks, work part of the time at a standing desk, use the steps rather than taking the elevator whenever you can and much more.  You get the picture.

Start getting creative as to how you can move around more even if you do have to be at your desk all day.  What about standing and doing squats while you are on a conference call?  This will get those glutes and quads working to increase metabolism and burn a few extra calories.  Need to read that paper?  Walk around your desk while you are reading it or do little lunges from side to side.  Perhaps do a little Tai Chi movement or two while you are reading something on your computer.  Don’t know Tai Chi?  Here is a video with some basic moves for you from  Jake Mace  Note side benefit:  This might just calm you down a bit at the same time!

Drink more water!   You will get the double benefit of rehydrating your system, which is most likely dehydrated, and it will make you get up and go to the bathroom more.  🙂  For more information on hydration, here is an article I wrote a while back about drinking water.

Of course none of this is meant to take the place of regular vigorous exercise but to help counter the negative effects of sitting too much.

Another benefit is every time you get up and sit back down, you are likely to sit in your chair more upright and out of that slumped position that seems to come so naturally when sitting for long periods of time.  You thought I forgot about the posture piece, didn’t you?  Nope.  Next time we will look at what often happens to the head and neck from sitting too long.

Meanwhile I hope this inspires you to move more and more throughout the day!

To your health,

Julie

 

Low Back Pain & Posture

As we discussed last time, the position of the pelvis has a lot to do with whether you are going to have low back pain or not.  The more your hips are rotated forward the more undue stress on the low back.  I hope you tried the Iliopsoas stretch to see if that started to relieve your back a bit.  Since the Iliopsoas muscle directly relates to the back and the muscles of the low back, as it starts to get full length back it will start to support a healthy position of the pelvis.  Did you try it?  How did you feel?

In addition to lengthening out the low back, it is important we stretch out the muscles in the front of the thigh that also cross the hip joint.  There are several stretches that can help you with this.  Here is a great one for addressing one of the main culprits:

To stretch the right Rectus Femoris:

  • Bend your right knee and grasp the front of your (right) ankle behind you with your right hand.
  • Bring your right heel to your right buttock while tucking your pelvis under; making sure your knee is always pointing towards the ground. Only go as far as you can and still keep your pelvis tucked.  (To give you the idea of how to ‘tuck’, tighten or squeeze your buttocks.  This will help to pull that pelvis into the correct position.)
  • While holding that position, push the front of your right hip forward, maintaining the ‘tucked pelvis’ position. You should feel the stretch in the front of your right thigh. Hold for a few seconds, relax, and then push the pelvis forward again.

Repeat on the second side.

Once you start to get some length into those short muscles it is then time to start to strengthen the ones on the opposite side of the joint, namely the abdominal and hamstring muscles.  We can talk more about those after you get some length back.

Meanwhile it is incredibly important to start thinking about the initial cause – namely sitting too much.  The new saying is ‘sitting is the new smoking’ since it is so hard on our bodies and health!

Let us begin by looking at what can be changed at your desk.  More and more companies are realizing the importance of getting off that chair and into a standing position.  Maybe you still have to be at your desk working but at least there are now options to do some of your work standing.  Check out these great new tools to turn your desk into a better work place at Varidesk.

Of course in addition to standing, moving is vital!  Rather than go grab a snack on your break, what about taking a walk around the building?  Perhaps start taking the stairs?  Park farther away from the door!  Take a walk after dinner rather than sitting in front of the TV!  Start finding creative ways to incorporate more and more movement into your daily life.  Your body will love you for it!

To your health,

Julie

Thoughts on why your low back might be killing you!

Does sitting ever drive you completely crazy?  I don’t know about you but I am a mover.  I get so fidgety when I have to do too much work at the computer.  I’d much rather be up and moving around!  Unfortunately in today’s society sitting comes with the territory.

Sitting is just one of the culprits that can start to cause low back pain.  The muscles in the front of the thigh that cross the hip joint are all hip flexors; in other words they lift your leg up in front of your body.  If you think about what that looks like, you can see the thigh perpendicular to the body when standing is the same as when you are sitting in a chair.  Stay in this position for prolonged periods of time and eventually those muscles won’t go back to their full length. The result?  When you stand those muscles pull the front of the hip down to compensate for being shorter than normal.

So what, you ask?  With that pelvis being pulled forward it ‘squishes up’ the lower back, which shortens and tightens those muscles resulting in pressure on the joints of the vertebrae.

The same thing can happen when you have a larger belly than you should have.  I know, you don’t like to hear that but it’s true!  That extra belly takes you out of gravity and pulls your whole body forward and down at the front of the pelvis.  Again this causes undue stress on the muscles and bones in the low back.

When those muscles get tight they cause pain.  As for the joints, there are small joints called ‘facet joints’ which are part of the vertebrae.  They are loaded in pain receptors so when they are unnaturally jammed together, they send lots of messages to your brain that says PAIN!!

So what can you do about it?  We will talk about this more on my next blog.  Meanwhile here is a great stretch to get you started on making some changes:

Give this a try on a daily basis and see if it doesn’t start to help with that low back pain.

To your health,

Julie

 

 

 

 

STRESS – WEIGHT GAIN & MORE

Stress often contributes to weight gain through emotional eating and the production of hormones associated with weight gain. Excessive weight is associated with many unwelcome and avoidable health issues.

STRESS AS A NATURAL OCCURRENCE

Our bodies are designed to handle variations from diet, exercise, stress and weight.  It regularly produces various hormones for a period of time to take care of these situations.  All this is a normal cycle for the body.

STRESS & HORMONES

The challenge is when that stressor continues for a prolonged period of time.  This causes the body to overproduce hormones thus stressing the entire system; breaking down cells, tissues, and organs.

When our body undergoes a stress, the adrenal glands produce adrenaline aka epinephrine.  This hormone stimulates the heart muscle, alters the rate of blood flow, and raises basal metabolic rate.  This is known as the fight or flight syndrome.  Epinephrine also prompts the secretion of glucagon by the pancreas, causing the release of nutrients from storage.  The steroid hormone cortisol is also produced.  It enhances protein degradation, which raises amino acid levels in the blood so that they become available for conversion of glucose.  The two other hormones induced by stress, aldosterone and antidiuretic hormone both help to maintain blood volume.[1]

Epinephrine does not stick around very long in the body however, when stress is prolonged, cortisol does.  This hormone will affect the body in detrimental many ways.  [2]Excess cortisol will:

  • Decrease metabolism by inhibiting thyroid function
  • Depletes protein in the muscles, bones, connective tissue and skin which can cause fatigue, weakness, thinning of the bones, and bruising
  • Decreases the production of androgens and growth hormones which build muscles
  • Can cause insulin resistance[3]
  • Increase fat accumulation, especially in the belly
  • Increase appetite and carbohydrate cravings
  • Will cause depression, anxiety, and mood swings
  • Is cortisol related to abdominal obesity?
    “Yes. There is a link between high cortisol levels and storage of body fat, particularly “visceral” abdominal body fat (also known as intra-abdominal fat). Visceral fat is stored deeper in the abdominal cavity and around the internal organs, whereas “regular” fat is stored below the skin (known as subcutaneous fat). Visceral fat is particularly unhealthy because it is a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.”[4]

The challenge with cortisol and weight is this.  First, when you are stressed you produce more cortisol which will lead to weight gain.  When you are overweight the adrenal glands produce more cortisol so it is a viscous cycle.

ADDITIONAL AFFECTS FROM STRESS

Free radical production

THE NEGATIVE ROLE OF CERTAIN FOODS & DRINKS

Food can play an important role in both exacerbating the problem and relieving the problem.

The following list will cause the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline and cortisol.  Over the long term this will eventually exhaust the adrenals:

  • Caffeine, especially beyond one or two cups a day on a regular basis will actually act like long term stress in the body
  • Chocolate in excess as it will act as a stimulant
  • Soda will affect blood sugar levels as well increase production of stress hormones
  • Heavy alcohol consumption will cause the adrenals to overreact
  • Refined foods and sugar will affect insulin production and consequently blood sugar spikes and falls
  • Refined foods will deplete the body of essential vitamins and minerals thus stressing the entire system
  • Refined salt is chemically cleaned and devoid of all minerals and will increase blood pressure
  • Can create a more acid pH in the body, which allows for disease to develop

THE ROLE OF HEALTHY FOODS

The following is a list of vitamins and minerals that will support the body during stressful times and therefore should be included in your daily meals:

  • B Complex is necessary for the production of all neurotransmitters including Seratonin, which is a calming neurotransmitter, and it is vital for the functioning of the adrenal glands. Foods high in the B vitamins include:  dark leafy green vegetables, wheat germ, brewer’s yeast, most grains
  • Vitamin C is depleted with prolonged bouts of stress and is also required for normal functioning of the adrenal glands. Sources include:  fruits especially citrus and berries, tomatoes and green vegetables
  • Vitamin A is an antioxidant thus maintaining the health of the cells. Foods rich in A include:  milk, eggs, butter, and fruit
  • Vitamin E is also an antioxidant. Foods rich in E include:  nuts, germ oils and green leafy vegetables
  • Minerals, especially magnesium which relaxes muscles. Sources of magnesium include:  leafy green vegetables, beans and legumes, vegetables, seaweed, nuts (almonds, cashews and filberts especially) and seeds (especially sesame)
  • Omega 3 fatty acids have a positive effect on moods. Sources include:  salmon, tuna, sardines, flax seed oil, pumpkin oil, dark green vegetables
  • Night shade vegetables as they have an expansive effect and therefore might be beneficial for someone tense from work, stress or activity which takes great concentration.[5] Nightshade include;  all peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant

WHAT YOUR DIET SHOULD INCLUDE

  1. Salmon
  2. Eggs
  3. Lots of leafy and dark green vegetables
  4. Night shade vegetables, if you can handle them
  5. Almonds, cashews, filberts and sesame seeds
  6. Beans and legumes
  7. Citrus fruits and berries

OTHER THINGS TO LOOK AT TO REDUCE THE AFFECTS OF STRESS

EXERCISE

  • Moderate levels are best with a duration lasting less than one hour
  • Critical to maintain optimal cortisol levels and hormone balance
  • Helps handle stress by improving cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems
  • Improves insulin resistance (studies have shown that as little as 3 weeks of regular exercise can lessen insulin resistance[6])

LAUGHTER

  • Using a similar protocol, the current research found that the same anticipation of laughter also reduced the levels of three stress hormones. Cortisol (termed “the stress hormone”), epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and dopac, a dopamine catabolite (brain chemical which helps produce epinephrine), were reduced 39, 70 and 38 percent, respectively (statistically significant compared to the control group).  Chronically released high stress hormone levels can weaken the immune system. [7]

MEDITATION

  • The study, done in China, randomly assigned college undergraduate students to 40-person experimental or control groups. The experimental group received five days of meditation training using a technique called the integrative body-mind training (IBMT). The control group got five days of relaxation training. Before and after training both groups took tests involving attention and reaction to mental stress.
  • The experimental group showed greater improvement than the control in an attention test designed to measure the subjects’ abilities to resolve conflict among stimuli. Stress was induced by mental arithmetic. Both groups initially showed elevated release of the stress hormone cortisol following the math task, but after training the experimental group showed less cortisol release, indicating a greater improvement stress regulation. The experimental group also showed lower levels of anxiety, depression, anger and fatigue than was the case in the control group.
  • “This study improves the prospect for examining brain mechanisms involved in the changes in attention and self-regulation that occur following meditation training,” said co-author Michael I. Posner, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Oregon. “The study took only five days, so it was possible to randomly assign the subjects and do a thorough before-and-after analysis of the training effects.”[8]

YOGA[9]

  • Asana are the physical postures that help with muscle relaxation
  • Savasana is usually at the end of a class and it is a pose for complete relaxation
  • Pranayama breathing practice

BREATHING

  • Pranayama / Yogic techniques[10]
  • Paradoxical

IN CONCLUSION

Stress is naturally occurring in our daily lives and has positive benefits.  Long term stress however can play havoc on our system resulting in poor health and unnecessary diseases.  We all need to take a closer look at how to reduce or eliminate chronic stressors in order to have a longer healthier life.

I hope this information has given you some thoughts about changes you can make to reduce chronic stress!

 

In health,

Julie

[1] Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition, 7th Edition

[2] Hormone Balance, Scott Isaacs

[3] A reduced sensitivity to insulin in muscle, adipose, and liver cells, Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition, 7th Edition

[4] Tom Venuto is a certified personal trainer, natural bodybuilder and author of the #1 best selling diet e-book, “Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle

[5] Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

[6] Per Hormone Balance, by Scott Isaacs

[7] The research is entitled Cortisol and Catecholamine Stress Hormone Decrease Is Associated with the Behavior of Perceptual Anticipation of Mirthful Laughter. It was conducted by Lee Berk with Stanley A. Tan, both of the Oak Crest Health Research Institute, Loma Linda, CA; and Dottie Berk, Loma Linda University Health Care, Loma Linda.

[8] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071008193437.htm

[9] Yoga can reduce cortisol levels, a finding which was documented in the October 2004 issue of the journal, Annals of Behavioral Science.

[10] http://www.kundaliniyoga.org/pranayam.html

Cooking as Meditation

How many of you cook on a regular basis anymore?  Do you find it easier to grab a meal on the run?  How do you feel after eating this way?  Are you satisfied?  Do you feel good?

As a society we have lost the desire and art of cooking.  Somehow our world has become one where fast food and fast eating is the norm.  There is a misconception that it is cheaper to eat fast food than preparing a meal at home and that it is equally healthy.  Both of these are inaccurate.

For me cooking is relaxing; a sort of meditation if you will.  At the end of a busy day I get home and look forward to spending time in the kitchen slicing vegetables, creating delicious sauces, grilling or baking.  It provides a great sense of accomplishment and keeps me in the moment while I am preparing.  Plus I know exactly everything that goes into what I am eating.  In fact most (if not all) of the ingredients don’t have labels.  They come exactly as they are grown.  The result is delicious, satisfying food both in my body and for my soul.  The additional reward is sitting down with family or friends to relax and enjoy this meal.  The conversation that goes along with relaxing at home rather than being rushed to eat out is an even greater reward.

Think about it.  It is great way to enjoy family time.   Pull out all the ingredients and give everyone a part in creating the dinner.  Talk about your day together.  Chopping, stirring, and creating.   Talking will come more naturally when you are moving than sitting on the couch staring at each other.  Make it a time for even exchange of conversation between all of you.  Laugh, be silly and be creative.  After the meal is made sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labor together.

The need for this type of eating and connecting is that much more important in our fast paced life than ever.  In America our population as a whole is 65% obese or overweight and much of this comes from what we eat, how it is made, where we eat it and how unconscious we are when we eat it.

The recognition of this has gone beyond the health conscious population in our country.  Even our doctors know very little about nutrition and how to prepare healthy meals, yet these are some of the people we rely upon to give us advice.  This is changing as is indicated by The Tulane University of Medicine, one of 16 medical schools with a licensed chef as one of their instructors.  In an effort to educate future doctors, medical schools are adopting a designated program to teach not only nutrition but how to cook.

Here are a couple of great excerpts from an article on Tulane University of Medicine:

Dr. Timothy Harlan, known in the food media world as Dr. Gourmet, is also executive director at the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine at Tulane. Harlan says the program isn’t just about helping students understand nutrition. The focus is on practical talk about food. Harlan wants Tulane-educated doctors to be able to teach their patients everyday skills in how to cook, what to cook and why…

“We know from the literature that when people go home and start cooking from real ingredients for themselves that their health improves,” Harlan says.

Isn’t it time to start cooking yourself?  The meals don’t need to be complicated or take hours.  These are more misconceptions.  I have prepared a delicious meal in no time at all and the process of preparing it has calmed me, brought me more into the moment and prepared my body to get out of the fast pace of the day to one that can relax and fully enjoy the delicious meal.

If you are interested in a few easy meals, simply look through my ‘Recipe of the Month’ section of my blog.

To your health,

Julie