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Health & Wellness

Self Improvement Burnout

Around this time every year, it seems like “life” gets the better of me and all of a sudden time begins to fly by. (Hey March, where did you go???) This is also the time when most of our New Year New Me endeavors (or resolutions, whatever you want to call them) start to fall by the wayside. You’ve been going hard for the month of January, but the initial glamor of your idea or new habit has worn off. In February, you may be able to dig down with determination and power through maintaining your change, but old easier habits begin to sneak in. “One slip up won’t hurt” turns into “once in a while is ok” which them morphs into “well on the weekends, I deserve to relax” and by this time of year, we’ve either stopped entirely or we are feeling totally burnt out with this Healthy Habits All Day Every Day thing.

So the question is: why does this happen and what can we do about it? I actually blogged about this (on my old platform) last year and these thoughts still hold true for me. It’s helped me to avoid the complete Burn Out that I’ve had in years past, so I thought it would be a good read for you guys too. Here it is:

“Around June of 2016, I hit a low point. It wasn’t tied to any particular event. There was just a slow decline over time where more and more dissatisfaction crept into my life until I was incredibly unhappy and burnt out. I knew that I needed to make changes, but they seemed to be too hard to do.

Taking the first step towards self-improvement is always the hardest. I think of it in terms of inertia: when you’re stuck in a place it takes a huge amount of energy to start moving. Think of how hard it is to push a huge rock that is sitting in the dirt. (Or even better how hard is it to start flipping that tractor tire over at the gym?) But the thing about inertia is that once you get going, the law makes it just as difficult to STOP the object you just had trouble moving. If you do manage to get that huge rock rolling, you definitely don’t want to be at the bottom of the hill to stop it! (Or using the gym example, have you ever tried to catch a weight before it hits the ground?)

In July 2016, I (unknowingly) took the first step to overcome my “stuck and miserable” inertia by signing up for a nutrition coaching course. I thought I’d be learning about macronutrients and serving sizes, but this course had so much more to it. They really dug into the lifestyle reasons for poor eating, as well as the emotional components that lead people to cyclically diet and regain weight. This course showed me how interrelated nutrition and the rest of your life were. You can eat all the kale in the world, but if you are miserable in other areas, you still won’t be healthy. Suddenly, I was confronted with admitting that I was unhappy and had the power to change that. And like they say “You can’t unlearn this stuff.”

Flash forward to January of 2017 and the inertia behind all of my self-improvement actions was really beginning to build up. I began to see all of the areas in my life that I wanted to change and fix. There were so many things I wanted to do: change jobs to something that I enjoyed, change my relationship with my kids to be better, work on relationships with friends, work on my health and fitness, make our house more organized and functional, let go of things that were no longer helping in our lives; the list goes on and on and on. I was suddenly beginning to feel overwhelmed with it all. I began to wonder, “is there such a thing as self-improvment burnout? Cause I’m totally there.” I wanted a break, and a small part of me wished I could just go back to not knowing that things could be better, because “ignorance is bliss.” HA!

Everything can’t be fixed instantly. It’s often a slow process, but we tend to see the end goal clearly and then get impatient when we can’t get there immediately. Then we get to the point where I was in January and our self-doubt kicks in. We see the long road ahead of us and decide that it’s just too hard. We end up with Self Improvement Burnout. We quit. And then we are doubly dissatisfied because not only do we know that we aren’t where we want to be, we’re down on ourselves for quitting. And the cycle continues.

So I began to measure progress differently. I committed myself to taking as least one SMALL step each day towards any of the goals I had. And it’s working. Here’s why: it made making progress sustainable, since I gave myself permission to not have to do everything all at once. It keeps the inertia going, so I won’t get to a place where it is a considerable effort to start again. AND by having so many areas that I know need work, it made finding a small step to take relatively easy and dynamic. If I ever don’t really know what the next step under the “Change Careers” goal is, that’s ok because I can take a small step towards another goal that day (like declutter a junk drawer for the “Functional House” goal). I’ve still progressed while giving myself time to figure out the next best step for the career change goal.

The important thing is to just keep moving forward. It doesn’t matter if it’s slow or fast. It doesn’t matter if it’s a fraction of an inch or a huge leap. Just be relentless with your movement. One action per day is progress, and for me progress is the new measure of success.”

Now here we are in March 2018. I look at where I was 15 months ago and there is so much that is different (for the better) now. All of those time steps each day have added up to a large change. They were the grains of sand that have turned into a 30lb sand bag. Looking back at this process helps me to keep going with the “just do one thing every day” path. Because in the end, I can see that it is working.

The grass is greener where you water it

Health & Wellness, Time Management, Uncategorized

The UnFancy Recipes

This is the second post in my Home Cooked with Takeout Effort series and it is going to focus on what I call Un-Fancy recipes. Too often, when we look for recipes online we find something that sounds too complicated, has too many ingredients, and takes too long to make. We don’t have an hour and 10 minutes on a weeknight to juillene carrots or chop up 10 different vegetables. We don’t have the time to brown the roast on all sides in ghee before cooking it for 20 minutes per pound. Then on “good days” where we actually do make a recipe we found online, we end up with too many dishes to wash, portions that were too small, and specialty ingredients that we don’t know how to finish before they go bad. So we feel like we wasted our time and money. All this often has a detrimental effect on our confidence in the kitchen “I’ll never be able to do that” or “I definitely don’t have that kind of time” or “Its ultimately a waste overall”

Here’s the secret though: most of us who cook regularly do not make things that are listed on a foodie blog. We cook in an Un-Fancy manner. We cook in a way that doesn’t seem worthy of posting online because the ingredients and steps are so simple. We use a standard “formula” to answer the “what’s for dinner?” question and go from there. It’s all very unglamorous. But it’s also very easy to learn, to implement, and to keep doing regularly.

This is my standard formula for a meal: make one protein, one starch/grain, and one veggie. I try to make sure the veggies are double the weight of whatever protein I am making. Thats it. The table below lists out examples of what falls into each of these categories.

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Now that we understand the formula, how do we keep it from getting “boring”? The secret here is keeping a few staple ingredients on hand and having several go-to spice blends. A huge hang up with recipes in general is that they cal for 1/2 teaspoon of 4 different spices, 1 teaspoon of 2 additional spices, and a tablespoon of 3 different sauces. Measuring out all of that (and even having all of it on hand) is a huge PITA (pain in the @#$) and time consuming. Having staple spice blends on hand eliminates this problem, while keeping your food super flavorful and delicious (and healthy to boot!). Here’s what I keep on hand in our kitchen:

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In addition to the spice blends, you want to have a few staple cooking ingredients on hand. These are a way to flavor your food without a lot of hassle. Keeping this list short helps you to use everything regularly. Using these regularly also has the added benefit of helping you learn how to use them efficiently and effectively to add flavor to meals. Here is a list of our family’s staple ingredients: olive oil, avocado oil, jar of minced garlic, apple cider vinegar (ACV), basalmic vinegar, lemon juice (get a glass bottle for way less hassle and many more uses than squeezing lemons), lime juice (optional, lemon works in most cases), amminos (healthy substitute for soy sauce), and avocado oil mayonnaise.

Ok, now how do we make this all work out to be easy meals that take you less time to make than takeout or delivery? Well, if you have a convection oven at home, you’ve hit the JACKPOT of easy home cooked dinners. In a convection oven, you can cook items on every rack in the oven at the same time. I will often place whichever baked chicken thighs we are having on the top rack, a pan of veggies on the middle rack, and a pan of carrots or potatoes (for the starch) on the bottom. The whole meal takes 35 minutes to be done once its in the oven, but it takes YOU only the 5-10 minutes of prep time to be actively “cooking” in the kitchen.

If you don’t have a convection oven, never fear! You can either roast your chicken and veggies side by side on the same rack and use an “instant starch,” OR you can use a steamed/sautéed veggie option. And if all else fails, a bag of salad is a great go-to option for the veggie choice (just be careful with the dressing, since they are often loaded with excess sugar).

Here are a few pictures showing how we usually combine items from the Un-Fancy Recipes. I encourage you to try this out ONE TIME this week. Swap out ONE take out or fast food run with one of these. When you do it, let me know how it worked!

Health & Wellness, Uncategorized

My Favorite #momhacks for Breakfast

It’s no secret that breakfast can be a struggle with new moms. (Heck, its a struggle for MOST people.) In pregnancy, you may be dealing with morning sickness. When the baby is finally here, you may be so sleep deprived that you can’t remember if you ate or not. You only have one hand to make something with anyway, since the other arm is home to a new (and totally adorable) little resident. So maybe you grab something prepackaged to eat with one had (pop tarts anyone?) or maybe you get a few sips of (now cold) coffee down.

Once the baby turns into a little human, aka toddler, you’re trying to keep them from dumping out the cat food while rushing around getting yourself ready and packing their bag. Or maybe you’re making them whatever they loved yesterday, only to watch it end up on the floor because clearly they wanted the thing they hated yesterday instead. ::cue tantrum::

Although we “know” that breakfast is the most important meal of the day (because they keep saying it, right?) all of the stress in a busy morning combined with not enough sleep (there will come a day when night waking is in the past, but today is not that day) causes us to either skip it entirely or rely on whatever we can grab from the pantry (hello GoGurt and cookies) or the drive through (come to me you beautiful venti caramel macchiato). Breakfast for a new mom is often an afterthought. And by letting it stay this way, we are setting ourselves up for a day of hunger, cravings, mood swings, and the like thanks to imbalanced blood sugar.

The thing is, you don’t have to go from eating a stale doughnut from the break room at work on the regular to organic, pasture raised egg frittatas with a side of heritage pork sausage (nitrate free, of course) over night. There are plenty of small and sustainable changes you can make wherever you are along the spectrum to make breakfast a better meal for you overall. Once you’ve mastered one change (swap out that doughnut for a greek yogurt), you move on to the next step (swap the yogurt for eggs). Through step wise implementation like this, you will be able to make long and lasting changes.

Even with a minor swap, you can begin to feel the benefits of a good breakfast right away. Getting great nutrients into your body for your first meal sets up your body chemistry to either support you or fight against you for the remainder of the day. Solid nutritional breakfasts can help you control cravings all day long, prevent that 2pm slump, and even help you get to sleep better at bedtime. With that in mind, here are the top 3 things to be working towards for a great breakfast:

  • Eliminate (or greatly reduce) added sugar in breakfast
  • Choose foods that are nutrient dense
  • Make sure there is a balance of protein and fat in the meal

If you are going to be reducing sugar in any place in your life, breakfast is the place where you will get the most “bang for your buck” When you have a lot of sugar at breakfast, you start the day off pumping a ton of insulin into your body to metabolize all the sugar you just ate. This creates a chain reaction where you have blood sugar highs and lows throughout the day. This also stops you from burning any stored fat for energy and can mess with the hormones that tell you if you are hungry or full.

Here are examples of typical grab-and-go items that are often used for breakfast that have a ton of extra sugar in them: nonfat flavored yogurt, granola, granola bars, cereal with nonfat milk, instant oatmeal packets (flavored), premade meal replacement drinks (think carnation instant breakfast or slim fast), a special k bar or similar, etc.

Do not feel bad if these are your staples! But do try one or two of the healthier options on this list: full fat greek yogurt (vanilla if you need a flavor), plain full fat yogurt (better choice than flavored, add frozen berries), plain instant oatmeal (again add berries), Kind bars (the ones that are 5g of sugar or less per bar), a protein shake, a green smoothie, hard boiled eggs, and/or a piece of whole fruit.

 

Once you have swapped to the healthier items above or if you are ready to take your breakfast nutrition even further try some of my favorite #momlife breakfasts listed below. These all meet my personal breakfast criteria: they can be made in advance in a batch for the week or can be made in less than 5 minutes (including dish cleanup), they can be eaten with one hand, they are a great balance of nutritionally dense food and will keep you full, they taste amazing, and they have no added sugar.

So go ahead and try some (or one) or these for a week (or day). Pay attention to how you feel after a few days. Do you have fewer cravings? Are you full for longer? Do you have more energy? If you experiment let me know how it goes!

*to make the Paleo Protien Pancakes, we use this pancake mix and add one scoop of this protein powder. You get 10g of protien per pancake, and they are delicious! I like to make a large batch on Sundays so I can give the kids 2 cakes (no syrup) during the week for an easy breakfast for all of us.

Health & Wellness, Uncategorized

That NewYearNewMe Thing

When it comes to the New Year, I feel like there are generally two kinds of people: the I’m-Going-To-Completely-Fix-My-Life-With-This-List-Of-Resolutions type and the Resolutions-Are-Stupid-Let-Me-Gloat-When-Everyone-Fails-By-February type.

Neither of these types are great. On one hand, you have a group who is waiting on a date to “make everything better” and then trying to move mountains. On the other hand, you basically have cynicism at its finest, which may just be a mask for a fear of their own needed changes. I’ve definitely fallen towards the first type earlier in my life and I went through a brief stint as the cynic as well. Now I like to think that I’m older and wiser. I definitely don’t wait for a new year to set goals and I don’t charge forward trying to change everything on January 1st. However, there is a fabulous energy around the new year that promotes change and I love to leverage that when I can.

The new year gives me time to reflect on what has been going well in my life and on what I want to improve. A great friend of mine has perfected this reflection and goal setting and I tried her method this year. This really can be done at any point during the year, so you don’t have to wait to try it out! You make 3 lists (in this order):

  1. What Did I Accomplish in the Past Year
  2. What Are My Big Goals/Dreams for the Next Year
  3. What Do I Want to Leave Behind

The first list is a great truth finder, especially for those of us who have a nagging inner voice of negativity sometimes (um, me!). It forces you to think about the hard work you put in over the past year. That goal you crushed in February? On the list. When you needed to set new goals in July because you finished your the January set? On the list. There it all is in black and white. Conclusive proof that you DID do awesome things. (Take that Myrtle) This list puts you into the mindset of accomplishment.

Once you are in the mindset of accomplishment, listing out the Big Goals/Dreams is much less daunting. I found that those goals that were buried deep down because of fear that I wouldn’t achieve them were easier to bring to the surface. To actually write down as terrifying as it was. Now they are there, on paper, staring you back in the face. It’s a very “woah” moment.

Now you are feeling the “woah” and you see where you are headed. This is the time to write the last list. It takes some introspection, and some honesty that you may not like to hear, but it is worth it. You start writing out the things you have in your life that aren’t serving you. The things that won’t move you in the direction of those goals you just admitted to having. The habits you know you need to break. This becomes that things you leave behind. It’s the nonsense that swirls around in your life. If you know you don’t need it, if you know it’s hindering you, it goes on the list.

Now what do you do with these lists? The first one, post it where you can read it often. I like keeping it where I can easily access it when things are getting tough (like my desk drawer at work) or in a place where I will see it each morning (like in my closet). It will be a great way to pick yourself up over the next few months.

The second list gets broken down into mini lists (hey, I’m a trained engineer so forgive my inner nerd). You list the goal at the top. Then you break it down in to smaller chunks. Then you break those chunks down in to smaller ones. And you keep breaking it down until you have something you can do daily or weekly to move you to that goal. Once they are all broken down, do yourself a favor and start scheduling the time chunks into your day. Your future self will thank you for these.

Here are some examples of my Big Goals broken down.

Big Goal #1: Make Meditation a Non-Negotiable Daily Habit

Breakdown: Get to meditating for 30 minutes per day. Break that down into two 15 minute session per day. Break that down into starting with one 15 minute session per day. Break it down even further to one 10 minute session per day.

The Plan: 10 minutes of meditation per day in January at any time. 10 minutes in the morning per day in February. 15 minutes per day anytime in March. 15 minutes in the morning every day in April, etc.

You can break down exercise goals, nutrition goals, and life goals in the same way.

For accountabilities sake, here is a list of my 2018 Big Goals/Dreams (in no particular order):

  • Run a 2 hour Half Marathon
  • Race a 1:30 Sprint Triathlon
  • Keep Added Sugar Out of My Diet
  • Make Meditation a Daily Habit
  • Keep a List of 3 Happy Moments from My Day for 365 Days in a Row
  • Complete One Round of Decluttering for Our House
  • Practice Mindfulness, Gratitude, and Positive Thinking Consistently
  • Successfully Coach 6+ Clients per Month After Graduation from IIN
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If you want a great way to record your gratitude daily, check out the Happy Feed app (it’s free)

There you have it. My NewYearNewMe thing in a nutshell. I plan on using this method to reassess where I am and where I am going every few months this year as well. Because when it comes down to it, you don’t need a calendar date to start moving yourself in the right direction.

Oh, and what do you do with that last list?

Burn it.

Health & Wellness, Time Management

Home Cooked with Takeout Effort

When I talk to friends and family (or crowd source on the internet) about the biggest hurdles they face when it comes to eating healthy, the most common reply is lack of time. In this country, busy had become a badge of honor and it seems like we are all burning the candle on both ends more often than not. I hear the words “we have no choice but takeout” far too often. It certainly seems that way when you get out of work at 4:30, have soccer practice for kid #1 at 5 and a baseball game for kid #2 at 7:30. Is there really any other option than a drive through for dinner?

I’m here to tell you yes, there is. Now before your think that I’ve taken the express train to crazy-town, hear me out. One of the things that I can do really well is serve healthy food without fail every night of the week. I got good at this out of necessity: when I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease it was well before the whole gluten free craze that we see today. I suddenly didn’t have the option to “grab something quick” on the way home from work (or on the way to some activity) anymore. If I didn’t cook, I literally didn’t eat.

I like food. And eating regularly is kind of important to me. Nobody likes hungry Alasen.

So, necessity is the mother of invention. I had to figure out how to keep myself fed, and my only option was to make it ALL myself. Every breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Everyday.

What’s so great about this? Through years of trial and error, crazy work schedules, two kids under 3, and all the other stressors that we face out there, I’ve refined my “cook everything at home” life into meals that are healthy, taste great, and can be on the table in 30 minutes or less. I have meals that we can make and be eating that take less time than ordering takeout. They take less time than hitting a drive through and less time than delivery. (Go me!)

Part of my goal as your Nutrition Doula is to teach new moms how to do this too. I want to show you how you get to the point where your script is reversed: where going out to eat is the hassle and making food at home is the easy or lazy meal. So I’m working on several series of recipes and blog posts that explain exactly how to make these types of meals. I hope you can replicate them with some success!

My first set of Home Cooked Meals in Takeout Time starts with the world’s easiest shredded chicken. Let me know what you think of it!