Category Archives: Health

Saying Goodbye to Shampoo

Kamisuki (Combing the hair), A colour woodbloc...

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Conventional shampoos are no friend to you or to the environment.  They’re full of chemicals such as sodium lauryl sulfate and parabens that irritant your skin and strip your hair (in addition to posing other health risks).  These ingredients also pollute the air and water in their production and when you wash them down the drain.

So when I finally used up the huge bottle of Pantene I’ve had the last two years, I decided to try the “no ‘poo” method.  I’ve been cleaning my hair with baking soda and conditioning with apple cider vinegar for three weeks now.

The result?  My hair is no better and no worse than before.

On the plus side, my hair seems to need less washing.  I used to shampoo every other day but now every three or four days seems to be just fine, which makes me happy since I like being able to do less.  And besides not adding chemicals to my body or the environment, other benefits include buying fewer plastic bottles and saving money.  Baking soda and vinegar are pretty cheap!

But alas, all is not perfect with the no ‘poo method.  I need to mix the solutions each time I wash which is a bit of a pain.  I’ve tried pre-mixing but I hated pouring cold water over my head (especially in the winter).  In addition, I now have to separately condition my long hair when my old Pantene was a shampoo and conditioner in one.  And lastly, I have to admit that I miss the lather and the nice scent of shampoo.

But in the bigger scheme of things, I’m willing to live with these small downsides in light of the environmental and financial benefits of washing with baking soda and vinegar.

If you’re interested in trying this simple method,  here’s what I do:

  1. Mix 1 tablespoon of baking soda with 1 cup of warm or hot water.  Shake well.
  2. Wet hair with water.  Pour and massage baking soda solution onto scalp and hair.  It will not lather at all but may feel slippery.
  3. Rinse well
  4. If you want to condition, mix 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with 1 cup of water.   Pour over your head and work into hair.
  5. Rinse well.  Don’t worry the vinegar smell will dissipate quickly.

It’s really quite easy but you may need to play with ingredients a bit to find something that suits you.  For instance, you may want to use less baking soda if 1 tablespoon is too drying.  Or if the smell of vinegar is really intolerable, you could replace it with lemon juice instead.  See this post for a detailed guide and FAQs regarding the no ‘poo method.  There’s also a forum devoted to this topic if you want more info.

If you try it, let me know how it goes!  If you don’t, at least consider switching to a more natural shampoo.  Your crowning glory and mother earth will thank you.

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Simple Meal Planning

English: Kuaichap (Thai script: ก๋วยจั๊บ) is a...

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Eating healthy often requires that you prepare your own meals.  Fast food, restaurant fare, and prepared foods at the market are usually laden with salt, fat, sugar, and chemicals.  While eating these foods from time to time won’t cause any lasting harm, daily consumption is hardly recommended.

But preparing your own food may seem like a difficult task.  You may not know how to cook, you may not have the time, or you may not have the interest.  Relax, you don’t have to be a health nut and master chef with loads of time on your hands to be able to feed yourself well.  The key is to create a meal plan that’s simple and easy to follow.

Here’s how my family eats:  Breakfast is a routine affair.  It involves little or no cooking.  It’s usually one of three things: cereal with milk, whole grain bread with peanut butter and/or Nutella, or whole wheat crepes that I make on the weekend and serve during the week.  If I cook other things like oatmeal or french toast, I always make enough for at least two meals.

Lunch is usually leftovers from the previous night’s dinner.  Only reheating or assembly is needed!  Again, I purposely make more so there will be enough for two meals and perhaps some for the freezer as well for those weeks when there’s no time to shop or cook.

Snacks vary, including fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, whole grain crackers, cheese, yogurt, popcorn, and occasionally cooked items such as hard boiled egg, corn on the cob, or baked sweet potato (yum!).

So in reality, I only cook dinner.  Some examples of meals that work for my family include curry chicken and veggies over rice, pasta with tomato sauce, wonton and veggie soup with noodles, veggie and sausage fried rice, tuna and green apple sandwich.   Dessert is usually fresh fruit.

To make your own simple meal plan, do the following:

1) Come up with a list of breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner foods that meet all the following criteria:

  • You must enjoy eating them.  Why suffer?  How are you going to stick with a plan and motivate yourself to do the work involved if you don’t like what you’re eating?
  • The food should be reasonably healthy and meet your needs, whether that’s no carb or vegetarian or low salt, etc.  Minimize use of processed foods when you can.
  • The food should be fairly easy to prepare, preferably taking less than 30 minutes of hands on time and not require fancy ingredients or equipment.  This minimizes shopping and clean up time.  You can search online for simplified versions of your favorite recipes.  If you’re a new cook, see #5 for some resources.

2)  Plan a week’s worth of meals in advance.  Figure out exactly what you’re having each day to eliminate the need to think about it later when you’re tired and hungry.  Fill in a chart like the one below if it’ll help you.  You don’t have to plan something different for each meal.  If you are okay with leftovers, you can eat the same thing for several days.  You decide how much variety you need.  Plus, you might want to plan on having a couple of meals out each week for the sake of sanity or variety.  This is especially important if you’re new to cooking.

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Breakfast
Lunch
Snack
Dinner

3)  Comb your pantry and refrigerator to see what you already have and what needs to be purchased for the week ahead.  Make a shopping list and buy everything you need all at once.  There shouldn’t be any extra trips to the store during the week.

4)  Do any prep work you can ahead of time.  For example, bookmark recipes, chop vegetables, put snacks in single serving containers.  Some people cook a week’s worth of food on Sundays.  Some cook everyday.  Some set aside a whole weekend to cook and freeze meals for the month.  Do what works for you.

5)  Once you’ve gotten the hang of creating and following meal plans, try something new every week or every month.  This expands your repertoire and keeps your diet interesting. Allrecipes.com has an extensive database of user rated recipes, including “healthy” and “quick and easy” categories.  In his New York Times piece, Mark Bittman lists 101 foods that you can cook in 10 minutes (okay, maybe 15 if you’re not Bittman).  And then there’s Rachael Ray with her 30 minute meals.  I’d love to hear if you have other food resources to suggest.

Preparing your own meals does take time but it’s not only good for your waistline, it’s good for your wallet as well.  So invest some energy in planning healthy, tasty, and easy meals so you aren’t as tempted to hit the fast food joints.  The benefits are well worth it.  Happy eating!

Beat Fatigue

Sleeping, male baby cat. Red hair.

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When you feel exhausted, life seems like a burden.  Day to day activities feel taxing and nothing looks very interesting through tired eyes. You make silly mistakes and are accident prone.  You’re in a bad mood.  It can be heroic just to get through the day.

When you feel energetic, the world opens up.  You’re more motivated and joyful.  You have enthusiasm for life and all that it has to offer.  You’re calmer and better able to deal with challenges.  You feel better about yourself and the world.

I’m sure we’ve all experienced both states.  Who wouldn’t prefer to feel energetic and full of life?  Yet so many of us regularly drag ourselves through the day, barely hanging on as we’re running on empty.  How can we maintain a level of energy that allows us to live the life that we want?

The essentials to good health and energy are no secret: eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, exercise moderately, and incorporate relaxation and recreation in your life.  But in today’s world full of demands and distractions, these elements don’t come easily.  Sometimes things out of our control rob us of time to exercise.  Other times, we’re simply unable to pull ourselves away from a bright screen to get adequate rest.  In what ways are you undermining your own health and energy level?

If you do take good care of yourself most of the time and you still feel chronically tired, consult a medical professional to see if you have an underlying condition that is robbing you of energy.  Physical and mental problems such as anemia, hormonal imbalance, depression, and anxiety can all keep you from functioning at your best.

Sometimes despite our best efforts, we feel awful.  Whether a sick child kept us up all night or we had an urgent deadline to meet at work, taking care of our needs often take a back seat.  Our first impulse may be to reach for a stimulant: caffeine, sugar, alcohol, or tobacco.  While these things do make you feel better in the short term, they leave you feeling even worse once they wear off.  Then you need more stimulant to keep going thus creating an addiction.

It’s best to avoid these artificial energy boosts.  Having some healthier ways to recharge up your sleeve will help you do that.  Below are some ideas.  Try a few of them the next time you’re feeling exhausted.

  • Take a nap if possible.  Even a short 15 minute snooze can recharge your batteries for a few more hours.
  • Drink a big glass of water.  Sometimes we’re simply dehydrated and that leads to fatigue.
  • Take a few minutes to do some deep breathing, preferably in fresh air.  Slowly breath through your nose.  Focus on your abdomen and its expansion and contraction with the breath.  When we’re under stress, our breathing becomes shallow and we don’t get enough oxygen.  Slow, deep breaths also helps us relax.
  • Move your body.  Walk around or do some stretching.  Really get your blood moving and circulating.  Adjust your posture and make sure you’re sitting and standing upright to avoid muscle fatigue and strain.
  • Eat a healthy snack.  You could have low blood sugar from skipping meals or from crashing from a sugar high.
  • Do something relaxing.  Release tension by taking a warm bath or doing a quick self massage of your hands or scalp.
  • Wash your face or take a quick shower.  You’ll feel better, more awake.
  • Do something enjoyable for a short time.  If you’re feeling stressed out, worried, or upset, shift your mood by focusing on an activity that will lift your spirits.  Perhaps listen to up beat music or play with a pet.  This puts you in a better frame of mind to deal with the cause of your tension later on.

What else can you think of that will help you feel better when you’re really tired?  Jot down whatever techniques you’re willing to try and put the list in easy reach.  Hopefully by tending to your need for healthy food, exercise, sleep and R&R, you’ll minimize days of exhaustion.  But when those times do come, you’ll have some good ways to cope.

Feel Better – Eat Real Food

Raspberry fruits

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I recently learned of a great website called 100 Days of Real Food.  Blogger Lisa Leake and her family committed to eating no processed foods for 100 days and she recorded their experiences, experiments, and recipes on the site.

Lisa posted a list of the food rules they followed during that time.  In looking over the guidelines, I felt both great admiration for people who are able to rise up to the challenge and skepticism over the sustainability of living and eating that way over the long haul.  After all, not many people want to bring their own food everywhere as Lisa and her family did (and still does).  She admits that after the challenge, they no longer adhere to all of the rules.  But her family’s diet has changed immensely for the better and she invites readers to take a 10 day real food challenge if they’re not up for 100 days.

I know there are so many compelling reasons to reject processed foods, both for our own health and for the health of the planet.  Yet, I’m not ready for the 10 day challenge, though I do want to eat healthier.  So instead of overhauling my (and my family’s) entire diet,  I’ve decided to go at my own pace and make changes slowly to ease the transition.  Suddenly adopting strict new habits that invite rebellion will likely do little good.  But gradual changes that give us time to adjust can work best in the long run.

So if you’re like me and not ready for a complete food makeover, here are some simple ways to improve your and your family’s diet:

  • Swap a refined grain such as white bread or white rice for a 100% whole grain version at one meal a day.  If that’s too much, you can substitute items that are a mix of whole and refined grains for the all white stuff.  For instance, I now serve rice that’s a mixture of brown with white.  That’s an improvement and it’s a change my family can accept.
  • How much fruits and vegetables do you eat on average?  Can you increase that by one serving a day?  For instance, add fruit to your breakfast or snack on cut up veggies w/dip instead of chips.  If possible, buy organic but if not, the benefits of eating more fruits and veggies still out weight potential harm from industrial farming methods.
  • How much sugar are you drinking in a day?  From soda and juice to sweetened coffee and tea to Gatorade and smoothies, there’s no lack of sugar in our diets.  The average American consumes 20 added teaspoons of sugar per day according to a USDA survey.  Granted it’s not all through beverages but they are a major source of sugar.  Pick one sweet drink and replace it with water or a non-sweetened version if possible.
  • Conventionally produced meat, poultry, and seafood (and their milk and eggs) are full of antibiotics and/or toxins.  Though they aren’t exactly processed foods, the way they’re produced is anything but natural.  This hurts not only the animals but also the people who consume them and the environment.  Consider switching to one of the following in your diet: sustainably caught seafood, grass fed meats, pastured poultry, or their dairy and eggs.
  • Stop eating any food out of a box, package, can, bottle, or bag that has more than 10 ingredients.  It’s not Lisa’s 5 but 10 is still better than the 25+ ingredients common in many processed foods.
  • Cut back on junk food such as fried food, fast food, chips, candies, cakes, and cookies.  If you currently eat them twice a day, try cutting down to once a day.  If you eat them four times a week, trying reducing to twice a week.  Brainstorm a list tasty and healthy meals and snacks that you can substitute for junk food.

Eating real food is fantastic for your health.  It does call for learning new habits and skills such as changing where you shop, learning to cook, and planning ahead.  But the benefits are well worth it.  Go at your own pace with balance and sanity and find the changes that work for you.  Happy eating!