Health & Wellness, Time Management, Uncategorized

“Balance”

I’m still reflecting over the past whirl wind of a year and there is one lesson that keeps coming to mind. It’s about that balance thing that everyone talks about. A part of the reason why I began the journey that lead me to becoming a Nutrition Coach was because I was looking for more of that elusive “balance” in my life. I could no longer go every day to a job and field that not only took more than a third of my life every week to accomplish, but also wasn’t anything that I was excited about. I didn’t want to have my kids continue to grow up with a parent who was gone for 11 of their 14 awake hours every weekday and who was too exhausted and stressed out on the weekends to be of any use to them. If only I could find a better balance, then it would all be ok, right?

I’ve come to learn that this “balance” thing that is sold to us via social media, “me time” memes, and time management articles doesn’t exist. It’s a myth, a unicorn that some people like to pretend that they have. This whole illusion of the mom-who-has-it-all is so damaging; it sucks the joy right out of our lives. We are bombarded with this idea that we should and could be that pinterest crafting mom, who is also an E-Suite employee with a perfectly cleaned and organized house. Oh and you also run literal marathons on the weekend, while taking fun, yet educational trips with your kids and accomplishing every to-do task on the list, so that you have enough time for that luxurious massage and bubble bath on Sunday night. After all, you should recharge so that you can crush the upcoming week, right? If you were balanced, then this could be you!


The illusion of balance drives us to stress, to drink, to wonder “Why am I broken? Why am I the only one who can’t do this right?”

My study of nutrition over the past year has put a spot light on how ridiculous this premise is. This whole balance thing is also sold by the food and dieting industry, under the brand “All Things in Moderation.” But once you start to learn about how certain things that we disguise as food affect the human body, you realize that this moderation thing just isn’t true. All things in moderation is something that is said by people trying too sell you on the things that are NOT good for you. (I’m looking at you diet soda…)

On the flip side of All Things in Moderation, there is the “do-this-every-day-to-be-healthy” crowd, which also echoes the mom-who-has-it-all illusion. The laundry list of superfoods and spices that you need to have in your diet to be healthy is a mile long. Trying to follow this list religiously will eventually induce similar stresses as trying to be the perfect, “balanced,” parent described above.

So what is the actual solution to all of this? Well, when it comes to food and nutrition, I know that there isn’t balance day to day. There isn’t enough time to do every single healthy thing that you can possibly do in a day. The amount of time, resources, and energy to craft a perfectly balanced diet for 24 hours, and for every 24 hours for the rest of your life just doesn’t exist. You can get a lot closer to that balance over the course of a week. You get ever closer of you remain consistent over a month.

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Our diets are meant to ebb and flow, with foods rotating into and out of them as they came available in nature. This is why in the summer you prefer to eat lighter foods and in the winter we love a hearty stew. Great nutrition is something that you give your body over the course of a year, not necessarily in a day. Now that doesn’t mean that there wont be some days where you have an abundance of superfoods, but it won’t be every day and that’s ok. The balance occurs over the course of a year.

In addition to this, when it comes to nutrition it is important that we avoid the things that don’t help out health. It’s not all things in moderation, there are certainly foods that we eat that damage our health and that we should not eat at all. It can be terrifying to acknowledge that no, you really shouldn’t ever have a diet soda again. Realizing this can bring a sense of loss and a sense of identity crisis.

But ultimately, there is freedom in no longer being a slave to this or that food or addiction. Happiness means letting go of the things that do not serve you. And this remains true when it comes to foods that we should not eat or those lifestyle choices that are ultimately toxic to our health.

It’s time for me to let go of this idea that “if I only balanced things better, my life would be better.” What will make my life better is to let go of the activities that are equivalent to the diet sodas in my life, to start the activities that are equivalent to superfoods, and to know that these superfood activities do not all have to be accomplished in one day. If we are having a good amount of those superfood activities over a week or month, then we are on the right track.

It turns out that while I started last year trying to obtain the balance illusion, I found something much better. Instead of this balance, I’ve learned what “junk foods” I need to stop spending my time on. I realized that it wasn’t so much the time that I was putting into the old job that was the issue, it was that for me, the old job is like some form of nutritionally deficient microwave dinner. It keeps you alive but slowly destroys your body, your health, and your happiness. By taking the steps to become a Nutrition Coach, I’m switching out these microwave dinners for whole foods which restores the life destroyed by a poor diet.

And the added bonus is, it tastes delicious.

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, 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!

Goal Setting, Time Management, Uncategorized

Ready, Set, Go!

In one week, I begin classes at IIN with the end-goal of becoming a Nutrition, Health, and Wellness Coach for pregnant and postpartum women. I am so excited to get started with this journey and I’m looking forward to what the next year hold in store for me.

One of the things I know that will be coming with going back to school is a lot of hard work and dedication. I already work a (slightly more than) full time job, we have two very young girls, and adding school to the mix will have its challenges. Through completing the IIN precourse work, I have been preparing for the challenge ahead with two main tools: capturing and clearly defining my purpose for this course and managing my time efficiently.

Defining my purpose has been a fun and insightful practice for me. I enjoyed spending the time brainstorming and dreaming about what I really want to achieve with this course. It was relatively easy for me to explain the main part of my “Why” (it’s up on the About Me page if you’d like to check it out), but there was another less defined part to this. Not only do I have a passion for helping new moms that comes from my own experience as one, but I also wanted a “better life” for me and my family. But how do you define better? Is it more (time, money, things, joy, etc) or is it LESS (stress, stuff, commuting)? It took a while but I finally was able to define what I am searching for:

I want a life that I don’t need to take a vacation from.

So over the next year, when things get hard (and I know that at times they will be hard), I have this phrase to come back to. I am building a life from which I will not need a vacation.

The second tool I have been working with is effective time management. I can be relatively good with this for a few days or weeks, but eventually I slip back into old procrastination habits. (I’m sure many of you can relate to that!). Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking about time a lot. There is a IIN pre-course class on time management and organization, I’ve been seeing “inspirational” quotes online about it, I’ve had seemingly random discussions at work about it, it’s everywhere. (Hey, this is synchronicity in action!) Through all of this discussion, I’ve created a three-pronged approached to slay the “too busy” demon and make space in my life for my new pursuit. This is centered around the big rocks method, the SRS, and Saying No.

The big rocks method is based on this story/example and is discussed in IINs precourse. The premise is that you determine what are the most important things for your life (like family time, study time, and work for example) and you schedule those before everything else. After this, you determine your next tier of important items (exercise, time with friends, cooking) and schedule those in. The remaining tasks are the “sand” that fills the jar (I’m looking at you errands, laundry, and housework).

For me, the real benefit of the big rocks method is that it forces you to sit down at the beginning and define what is truly important to you. It relates back to defining my “why” which was also helpful.

Once you know exactly which rocks are your big rocks, you can move on to figuring out what are the pebbles and what is the sand. Pebbles are things that still need to get done, even if you don’t enjoy them. The sand is stuff that you actually don’t have to do (yes, the is stuff in your schedule that you genuinely don’t have to do!). You handle the pebbles with the SRS and the sand with Saying No.

The SRS (sucky rotation schedule) was invented by a friend of mine (read about how to do it on her blog here) and is a great way to manage your pebbles. Whenever you need to devote extra time to a big rock, you choose a couple of things on the pebbles list that aren’t going to happen, so that you free additional time for the big rock. It’s ok to let these things slide for a week, because you rotate which things you let slide. This week, I’m not doing laundry. Next week, I’ll do the laundry but I won’t go grocery shopping. And you continue this cycle until you can rebalance and not need the extra time for the big rock. Over the next year, I’ll be using the SRS to free up the time I need to devote to IIN. Rebalancing occurs later (I’ll make a post about elimination pebbles in the future).

The last (and my favorite) method for handling your time is Saying No. This is how you deal with the sand from the big rocks example. You just don’t do it. You stop. This is a scary step to take for so many people (and me too sometimes) because you think “OMG, if I don’t make pinterest worthy decorations for my kids party, THE WORLD WILL END!” It won’t, really, I promise. In fact, no one is going to notice that you made the cute little deviled eggs that look like owls for your two year olds’ owl themed party (Did I do this once? Yes, yes I did.). I promise, no one will notice. Sand looks different for everyone, so take a few minutes to define what it is for you. If deep down, you are doing some task because of the expectations of others instead of your own, it may be sand.

So here I am, ready to tackle the next year with my purpose and my time management plan. I’m excited and can’t wait to start next week!

I’m building a life from which I won’t need a vacation.