• How I reversed my autoimmune symptoms

    I struggled in deciding if I would share this story. It is personal and just writing it brought back so many emotions. This season was challenging and I spent a lot of time feeling misunderstood because of my condition.

    Autoimmune diseases are complex and there is no one, clear way to diagnose and treat them. They can be absolutely devastating. I am not a medical professional and what I am sharing is not medical advice. I was able to reverse my symptoms while avoiding medicine. I recognize that not everyone is so lucky. I am sharing my story in the hopes that it helps someone else in their journey for answers.

    Five years ago, I was depressed and scared. It felt like my body was shutting down. I had developed what we would refer to as a “sun allergy.” I had Lupus symptoms such as extreme sun sensitivity, reoccurring systemic rash, joint pain, and stiffness. I couldn’t even ride in a car without having to cover my skin with a blanket for protection from the sun. When my friends were enjoying days at the pool or park, I had to decline and attempt to explain something no one seemed to understand. At night, my joint stiffness was so bad I had to pry my fingers open from fists that had formed in my sleep. To say this was a difficult season is an understatement.

    Unfortunately, my blood work was inconclusive to officially diagnose lupus. I was referred by my physician to an allergist who referred me to a rheumatologist. Rheumatoid arthritis is a form of autoimmune disease and I was recommended to begin a prescription for an immune-suppressant drug. I knew this was not an answer for me so I began to do my own research.

    I already ate a vegan diet, but as I mentioned in my journey to a plant-based diet, vegan is not synonymous with healthy. I continued eating a diet centered on vegetables, beans, whole grains, and fruits, but I began to cut out sweets and bread. I also found that some sufferers of autoimmune disease used fasting to relieve joint pain. I began routinely fasting for 18-22 hours. I found that I felt immediate relief in my joints but as soon as I began to eat, the pain slowly returned. In my season of recovery, I fasted one day a week and cut out all sweets and breads. Slowly, I decreased my fasting until I no longer suffered from symptoms. I learned to read the signals in my body. The beginning signs of joint pain alerted me that I should reevaluate my consumption of sugar and ensure that I was not spending too much time in the sun.

    Five years later, I can now spend all day outside (with sunscreen!) and enjoy a plant-based diet. I rarely fast for health reasons, though I do cut off evening eating/snacking at 6:30. This gives me a 13-14 hour fast before my next meal and helps my digestion and energy levels feel optimal. I know what worked for me may not work for someone else and certainly it wasn’t an overnight “cure all” BUT I also wished there were more personal accounts shared to help me navigate my path to remission. If it helps one person, then it was worth sharing!

    If you struggle with stress, health, critical self talk, relationships, goal setting, or handling emotions, check out my new book!

    Mind and Body Wellness
     transformative tools
    to manage stress,
    create space for health,
    and live with purpose. 

    Well-being isn’t a product of happenstance. No one can create it for you. YOU are the only one who can do the work of creating space for personal wellness. I will equip you with the practical tools you need to transform your mind and body so that you can have less stress, abundant wellness, and live purposefully. Click here to learn more and order your copy.


  • How to create your own daily habit and task journal for FREE!

    how to create a daily habit and task list

    For over three years I have been using my highly effective daily habit and task journal. I’m going to teach you how to make one too and the best part is, there is absolutely no cost.

    For years, I truly believed I couldn’t simultaneously achieve success in different facets of my life. If I was rocking motherhood, my spiritual disciplines suffered. If I focused on exercise and healthy lifestyle, everything else seemed to slip through the cracks. All of this changed three years ago when I stopped believing this lie, learned how to set goals correctly, and created a system to hold me accountable.

    The technique I use is a combination of bullet journaling, task lists, a daily planner, and goal check-ins. I tried all of these products on their own. I had a gratitude journal, a prayer notebook, a planner, a bullet journal, etc. There was absolutely no way I could keep up with all those notebooks and journals! So, I created my own system that works for me. It isn’t fancy and it won’t cost you a dime, assuming you have an old notebook lying around. The fact that this doesn’t cost a thing is part of the appeal. With brand new expensive notebooks, I feared ruining them with my unworthy notes and sloppy handwriting – anyone relate? With my approach, there is no guilt – just productivity. Each night, I evaluate the day and create a list of my non-negotiables for the following day. Then, I make a list of everything I need to accomplish in order to be intentional with my time.

    In order to explain this whole idea a little better, I made a video tutorial. Feel free to comment below with any questions. If you want to learn more about setting goals, determining your “why” and so much more, check out my book Mind and Body Wellness.

  • How I lowered my cholesterol naturally

    There is nothing more you can do with your diet.

    You exercise enough.

    It may be time to try a statin drug.

    Would you like me to write you a prescription?

    These are all things I have heard from healthcare professionals regarding my cholesterol levels. I have battled alarmingly high cholesterol since I first had it tested as a teenager. Although I cleaned up my diet over the years, the numbers weren’t budging. By all standards, my vegan, plant-based diet was healthy.  You can read more about my food journey here. Although my physician and dietitian didn’t believe my diet could be improved upon, I wasn’t convinced. I felt there had to be something more I could do. I knew I wasn’t ready to give up, so I had to find the answers myself.

    I researched high cholesterol and how to lower it naturally. In the process, I came across Dr. Esselstyn’s 20 year study proving changes in diet and nutrition can actually cure heart disease. The studies showed amazing reductions in cholesterol levels compared to the minuscule change statin drugs boast. You can read the studies for yourself and check out his book here.

    I want to make it clear that what I am about to share is what worked for me. I’m not a medical professional. I had plenty of critics when I started this journey, and still do. However, it worked! My cholesterol is in a healthy range and I did it naturally.

    Inherited high cholesterol doesn’t budge easily; simple diet adjustments just don’t make enough of a change. This process would require a drastic change. Based on Dr. Esselstyn’s studies and his book How to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, I was already on the right track eating a whole food, plant-based diet. However, now I would need to cut out all major sources of fats. Avoiding fats means I cook without butter and oil. It also means I limit plant-based sources like avocado, nuts, and coconut. I have found that I get sufficient fat from naturally occurring sources in plant foods.

    I have found so many amazing ways to sub oil and butter for baking and cooking. It’s shocking how many foods we impulsively add oil or butter to because we assume that is the only method of preparation.

    Here are some of my favorite substitutions:

    egg:  Use flax “egg”

    saute vegetables: Saute dry and add water if they start to stick to the pan.

    baking (muffins, cakes, cookies, etc.): To replace fat in a recipe, I usually try to use a combination of at least two substitutes. Examples are applesauce, banana, nut butters, and simply adding water or nut milk to desired consistency.

    The possibilities are truly endless! Thanks for letting me share my story with you.

  • My Journey to a Plant-based Diet

    I still cringe when I see the word diet. As a noun, diet is simply the foods we eat. As a verb, diet entails the restrictive approach to losing weight. Today, I’m sharing with you my eating lifestyle and approach to food.

    Over the past decade, I’ve slowly transitioned from a standard American diet to a whole foods plant-based diet. A whole foods plant-based diet refers to a diet centered around unprocessed food from plant sources. This means eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. I focus on eating little to no processed foods. That means you won’t find boxes of cereal, granola bars, pop tarts, or chips in our pantry.

    It isn’t about restricting foods to meet an end goal, though this diet has in fact allowed me to lose weight and feel better. In some cases “feel better” can’t be quantified but here are my victories:

    • Decreased cholesterol
      Alarmingly high cholesterol that I have battled since I first had it tested as a teenager, was drastically lowered by a plant-based diet. A vegetarian or even vegan diet didn’t cause my cholesterol levels to budge. My physician and dietitian suggested statin drugs. They were sure I was doing all I could based on my “healthy” vegetarian diet. I was not convinced that this was the case. It took a drastic change in diet. You can read more here.
    • Reversed auto-immune inflammation
      Several years ago, I had an autoimmune reaction that could not clearly be diagnosed. I was referred to a rheumatologist whose plan of action was to put me on immune-suppressing drugs with some pretty serious side effects. I opted out and through a long journey of learning what foods truly nourish and heal my body, I no longer have any of those frightening symptoms.
    • Stronger immune system
      This is an area where a difference won’t come over night but is more of a gradual shift. From adolescence, my immune system has always seemed weak and overworked. The chronic sinus infections I have had my entire teen and adult life are now gone and I feel great.  I am rarely sick and my body functions optimally.

    I do not say any of this to brag. I am incredibly thankful for the gift of health. However, we are all stewards of the body we have been given and I hope to encourage you to care for yours better by sharing my journey.

    In the trendy world of food, diets come and go. You can choose to agree or disagree with my food choices. However, there is no denying the fat content and carcinogen risk of eating a meat-centered diet. What foods are most nutrient dense, providing loads of vitamins and fiber? Plant-based sources. It’s pretty much a no brainer decision for me but I haven’t always been so confident. With so many mixed messages in the media, I have done my research. I’ve read hundreds of diet and nutrition books, textbooks, taken courses, and listened to well-known speakers and experts in the field of nutrition. It’s easy to get confused with so much contradictory information. Now, when I read scientific studies and the latest “research”, I dig a little deeper. Who funded this study? What exactly are the amazing results compared to? There are lots of resources to help you but I recommend starting with www.nutritionfacts.org. Dr. Michael Greger runs this non-profit organization to share nutrition facts with the general public. His book, “How Not to Die” is a great resource as well. He, by the way, donates all of his book proceeds to charity.

    Even though I have been a vegetarian the majority of my adult life, it wasn’t until five years ago that I began shifting to veganism. I had read enough studies to know the harm in red meat and animal protein in general. It wasn’t until two years ago that I considered the fact that my diet still needed cleaning up as I shifted into a whole food plant-based diet.  I now choose not to eat any animal products including eggs and dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream).

    It’s important to recognize that vegan eating is not synonomous with healthy. Vegans can still load up on processed foods. French fries? Vegan. Peanut butter brownies with coconut ice cream? Vegan. The real change comes when we shift our focus to a diet centered on plants. I want to eat life-giving foods. If all of this sounds a bit overwhelming, keep in mind that this was a gradual shift. Do not compare the beginning of your health journey with my middle. Instead, remember what success will look like for YOU. Choosing success isn’t one, grand decision but rather all the teeny tiny choices throughout our day. Success means choosing what you want most over what you want right now. For me, that meant radically changing my eating habits.

    An important note about supplementation: I believe a well-rounded plant-based diet provides me with sufficient nutrition. Since many supplements are not FDA approved, I am weary of their effectiveness and safety. In fact, some supplements in isolation have actually been shown to cause harm in the body. However, since I do not eat any meat I take a vitamin B12 supplement. I also make sure to include 1 tablespoon of ground flax seed into my day as a source of omega-3s.

    Resources

    www.nutritionfacts.org

    How to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease

    www.forksoverknives.com 

    If you struggle with stress, health, critical self talk, relationships, goal setting, or handling emotions, check out my new book!

    Mind and Body Wellness
     transformative tools
    to manage stress,
    create space for health,
    and live with purpose. 

    Well-being isn’t a product of happenstance. No one can create it for you. YOU are the only one who can do the work of creating space for personal wellness. I will equip you with the practical tools you need to transform your mind and body so that you can have less stress, abundant wellness, and live purposefully. Click here to read an excerpt and order.

  • Handling Anger in a Healthy Way Part 1 + downloadable scripture guide

    Anger is an emotion that can quickly get out of control. I believe there are two main reasons for this. First, anger is a complex emotion. It is comprised of many layers of emotions and feelings like frustration, jealousy, sadness, loneliness, fatigue, and overwhelm. It is hard to discern our true feelings when they are a tangled up ball of emotions! Secondly, emotions have a primary life span of ninety seconds. However, when we cling to the emotion, unwilling to let it run its course, addicted to its story, we begin to strengthen a mind-body feedback loop. The more we feed the emotion, the more we reinforce neuropathways to respond this way again in the future.

    When we feel anger, it is important to step back from the situation and draw ourselves into present moment awareness. A good way to do this is to stop, remove yourself from the situation (if possible), and take a few deep breaths. Take a moment to refresh your mind and perspective by praying, reciting a scripture you carry in your heart, or repeating a positive affirmation. If you would like a scripture guide for the verses I recommend, you can download the free PDF resource here. I encourage you to post them in easy to view places around your home or office. Even better, devote them to memory.

    In my next post I’ll share some tips for understanding and handling your emotional triggers in the future. Hope this serves you well and free feel to email me if you have any questions!

  • Common mistakes when trying to break bad habits

    Breaking bad habits can be very challenging. Why is it so much easier to continue doing what we don’t want to do rather than cultivating what we do want in our lives? Habitual patterns form deep grooves in our brain and reinforce neural pathways. In neuroscience, the phrase is often used “neurons that fire together, wire together.” By changing our experiences (our habits), we can literally change our brain. As we create new habits, it is incredibly important that we see the value in those changes. Taking time to appreciate a new habit or experience, helps to cultivate the positive behavior by getting those neurons firing together. Enjoyable experiences have the greatest impact on forming new neural pathways.

    Unfortunately, there are several common mistakes that keep us from breaking bad habits.

    1. Trying to change too much at once
    Often we try to change everything at once and we can’t stay focused. Studies show that if we focus on changing one habit at a time, we have an 80% success rate. However, the success rate drops to 35% when we try to change two behaviors. Trying to change three habits lowers our success to a measly five percent!

    2. Unrealistic expectations
    Are you trying to replace a bad habit with a new habit that doesn’t fit your season of life? Take your schedule and life circumstances into account.

    3. Too vague
    Sometimes the problem is simply that our goal is not clear. We haven’t specified exactly what we are trying to change, nor have we considered the steps required to make the change.

    4. Focusing on “should” statements
    We all know things we “should” do – but what do you REALLY want? Feelings of obligation are not strong motivators to change a habit.

    5. No support system
    Trying to change is hard. Doing it alone is even harder. Find an accountability partner that you can call, text, or even check in with through social media.

    What would you add to this list? Comment below with your thoughts!

  • Flip the Switch on the Stress Response

    We all have stress in our lives. Stressful moments are part of the human experience. We are not alone in this. I’ve mentioned before that 80% of doctor visits are for stress-related problems. Obviously, it is a huge problem in our culture. Emotions only have a ninety second life span which means they run their course and are over within that time period. However, we tend to rev up our sympathetic nervous system and get stuck in an emotional holding pattern. The feedback loop keeps us on hyperalert and stress responses flare. If we want to get out of that loop, we have to learn how to flip the switch back to present moment awareness. One of the main components of well-being is self-regulation. These skills focus on attention, regulating emotions, reflecting on information and experiences, and executing willpower, discipline, and self-control. The bad news is self-regulation is the first thing to go when we get stressed. Stress hijacks the brain and puts us in a state of imbalance. In this state, we have little control over our actions which only increases our stress more. This cycle continues to perpetuate itself unless we use mindfulness techniques to intervene.

    Yoga and meditation’s relevance is that they can serve as our first line of defense by providing awareness of body sensations and using breathing techniques to calm the nervous system. When we meditate, we are able to bring our mind to the present moment and put our feelings and thoughts into perspective. This mental exercise is an important support for self-regulation.

    If you are curious how the nervous system relates to this whole process, I made an infographic to help break it down. I’ve even provided a simple mindfulness exercise to help you reinforce positive mind-body feedback next time you are feeling stressed. Check it out below and let me know how it works for you!

  • Mindful Eating During the Holidays // part 2

    I’m diving back into the topic of mindful eating during the holidays (you can check out part one here). Today, I want to focus on what to *actually* eat.

    1. Make a whole foods, plant based diet a priority. As a yoga instructor, I view food through the lens of nourishing the body so it can function optimally for well-being. Every where we turn, there is a new fad diet and fanatical followers. I prefer to follow the advice of Hippocrates: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” The University of California Davis Integrative Medicine has coined this catchy couplet “greens, beans, berries and seeds” making it easy to remember what to include in our diets. You can download a free reference chart here.
    2. Do not restrict food intake. Deprivation leaves us feeling dissatisfied and sets us up for failure. Period.
    3. Start each meal with a serving of fruit or veggies. Studies have shown that eating an apple prior to a meal reduces caloric intake by 15% (see the study here). Another study showed eating a bowl of vegetable soup first reduced calories even more – 20% (read more here). This is especially useful during holidays when calorie dense foods are plentiful. In a webinar from Forks over Knives, Matthew Lederman explains the connection between satiety and calorie density. Satiety is the physical feeling of our stomach stretching which turns off the hunger signals. If we can fill our stomachs with nature’s “multivitamin” (i.e. fruits and veggies) high in fiber, nutrients, and water content, then we will be less likely to overload on richer, more processed foods.
    4. When indulging, be very intentional and present with your choices. Refer back to part one of this series. If it is worth the splurge, take the time to savor each bite, chewing slowly, and engaging in the present moment.

    As a side note, I am a huge fan of NutritionFacts.org for the latest updates on nutrition research. There are more than a thousand videos on nearly every aspect of healthy eating. It is a FREE, non-commercial, science based public service.

  • Mindful Eating During the Holidays // part 1

    Now that Halloween has passed, the holiday season charges full speed ahead. While some embrace this time with the utmost enthusiasm, others find it synonymous with stress (guilty!).  Increased stress and unraveling of healthy habits are two of the less glamorous products of the holidays. One of the difficulties this time of year is eating mindfully. Mindful eating involves tuning in to understand what our body is truly craving and how to nourish it. I try to follow the guidelines below year around but they are especially helpful in promoting well-being in times of higher stress as they strengthen the mind-body connection.

    1. Before reaching for the party hors d’oeuvres or a platter of cookies, I ask myself “What am I really craving?” Am I experiencing hunger? Or, am I looking for a way to self-soothe or alleviate stress? Do I need connection with others or, conversely, alone time? If tuning in to the mind-body connection is a new experience, answering these questions may not necessarily be easy. Try drinking a glass of water and possibly engage in another form of self-care (i.e. take a walk, give a heartfelt hug, engage in face to face conversation with a friend, read a book, meditate, and so on). Full disclosure: sometimes we just really want the _____ (cookie, pumpkin pie, latte…) and that is okay. Move on to step 2.
    2. Before sitting down for a meal, I make sure I am actually sitting down. Besides meaningful face to face conversation, no multitasking allowed! Turn off the television, put away the computer, and silence your phone. In our fast-paced culture, it is entirely too easy to down a plate of food with the only awareness being an empty plate. We miss out on the eating experience; without savoring each bite, we may eat past our hunger cues and finish a meal feeling dissatisfied rather than nourished.
    3. Take 3 deep breaths before eating. This helps us slow down. In our family, we begin meals with a prayer of gratitude, thanking God for his provisions. Both of these practices helps us become more present and aware.
    4. As we eat (yes, I’m finally to the actual eating part!), try to chew several times. Chewing each bite twenty times is a nice goal but not always realistic. Just do your best here. To facilitate this better, I set my fork down between every single bite. Possibly take a sip of water between bites. Small sips of room temperature or hot water can aid in digestion. If eating alone, savor each bite. Involve the senses: notice the visual appeal, the smell, the warmth of the plate, the flavors, and the textures. If eating with others, engage fully. Stop eating when you are around 75% full.