In my early twenties, I was working for a gardener who took me to her CSA* farm for a volunteer shift. Instead of toiling in urban backyards, we got our hands dirty in rural Wisconsin for the day. I can't pretend to remember what we farm chores we did, but the experience had an deep impact on me. I became a member of that same farm the following season and have been one every since.
I had been introduced to local foods while working at the Birchwood Cafe. Farmers delivered fresh veggies, meat, milk, cheese and eggs for seasonal menu items at the restaurant, stopping by the counter for a coffee on their way back to their farms. I got to chit chat with them there, learning about their farms and philosophies. This sneak peek at the farm-to-fork experience changed how I thought about food. Honestly, it was a catalyst for repairing my relationship with food. After raging my internal food fight for more than a decade, I welcomed the paradigm shift with open arms.
Slowly, the role of food in my life became more than calories or nutrition. It became the invitation to relationships and community. I changed my buying habits, shifting my priorities in the grocery store from cheap to local. The investment was worth it to me - I knew that with every dollar I spent I was supporting people. I fed my body well with locally grown, seasonal produce, pasture-raised meats and eggs, and in so doing also financially invested in small, family farms in my community. I sat down to meals knowing where every ingredient came from.
I fell in love with food with a face.
I couldn't have made the transition from a I-can-have-anything-I-want-whenever-I-want-it diet to one based on local foods without From Asparagus to Zucchini. When I got my first CSA box, I didn't know what half of the contents were...much less how to store or prepare them! My dog-eared copy of From A to Z got me through the learning curve, and is still a cookbook I reference today.
This cookbook is a guide to seasonal produce, grown in the Midwest. Organized by vegetable in alphabetical order, the authors give tips for choosing the best product at the farmers market, storing for lasting quality, and several recipes centered around the ingredient.
Here's another reason why I love From A to Z: every recipe comes from a farm or CSA member, NOT a chef. That means that each recipe is totally doable to cooks of all skill levels.
If you signed up for a CSA for the first time, you need this cookbook.**
If you're committed to shopping farmers markets, you need this cookbook.
If you're trying to eat more vegetables, you need this cookbook.
If you're committed to supporting small, family farms like I am, you need this cookbook.
Buy this cookbook!**
*Community supported agriculture (CSA) is a business model that allows consumers ("members") to invest in a growing season of a farm. Members share the risk of farming with the farmer. This helps to ensure that they have the income they need to make the business sustainable for them. In exchange for the investment, farmers distribute "shares" of their product. There are all kinds of CSAs now: vegetables, meat, cheese, even pie and art! The most common CSA good is vegetables. Members receive weekly allotments of the produce grown on the farm throughout the growing season. It's a win-win!
**Another way to support small, family businesses is to buy books from your local bookstore, instead of Amazon. My Minneapolis favorites are Magers and Quinn and Moon Palace. Both stores have their inventory online making it easy to see if they have what you're looking for before making the trip. You can even order books online to have shipped to you, just like Amazon.
Collagen peptide supplements have become all the rage in recent years. With claims of eliminating joint pain and smoothing skin, hair and nails, who wouldn’t want to give this versatile protein powder a try?
Collagen is a protein found throughout the body. It’s a strong molecule, making up tendons and ligaments, the flexible matrix of bone and teeth, joint cartilage, connective tissue, arteries, skin and hair. Because it can be found in all these places in the body, collagen supplementation sounds like a panacea. Do the claims – and potential – actually live up to the hype?
Before jumping on the collagen cure-all bandwagon and recommending it to all my clients, I scoured the scientific literature for nuggets of truth in the claims. Here’s is my attempt at summarizing the answers I found to my questions in 500 words or less:
Regarding joint health:
Collagen supplements increase production of hyaluronic acid, a major component of the synovial fluid that lubricates our joints and other tissues, allowing them to slide across each other. In a small study with 97 participants, collagen supplements were shown to improve joint pain. Interestingly, the longer the subjects took the supplement, the less impact it had. This suggests that taking collagen supplements may help maintain joint health, and be helpful for people with joint pain or osteoarthritis but it likely won’t resolve the issue completely (1).
Another study explored the impact of collagen supplements on rheumatoid arthritis and found that it reduced joint swelling and tenderness (2).
Regarding hair skin and nails:
In the body, collagen stimulates cell proliferation (reproduction) and accelerated cell migration to the skin (3).
After 90 and 180 days of taking a collagen supplement, women with thinning hair had more growth, volume, scalp coverage, and shine. They also found greater moisture retention and smoothness to their skin (4). Skin dryness and breaking down of the collagen matrix in the skin are hallmark signs of aging. Oral collagen increases the density of collagen in the skin after 8 weeks of supplementation (5).
Collagen cannot confer benefits when used topically, however, so save your money on skin care products listing collagen as one of the ingredients. The molecule is just too large to be absorbed through skin cells.
Collagen supplements may be helpful with nails that break or peel, or simply don’t grow. Taking supplements for 24 weeks improved nail health in a study on brittle nail syndrome. These benefits persisted even a month after supplements were discontinued (6).
If you’re interested in adding collagen supplements to your health regimen, here are a few things to keep in mind:
One thing that appeals to me about this supplement is its versatility. You can add protein powder to smoothies or roll these delicious Lemon Turmeric Energy Bites, blend it up in your bullet coffee or stir it into a glass of water. It’s tasteless and very versatile.
Have you tried using collagen? What did you notice? What are your favorite collagen recipes?
1) Clark KL1, Sebastianelli W, Flechsenhar KR, Aukermann DF, Meza F, Millard RL, Deitch JR, Sherbondy PS, Albert A. 24-Week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain. Current Medical Research and Opinion; 2008 May 24(5):1485-96.
2) Trentham DE, Dynesius-Trentham RA, Orav EJ, Combitchi D, Lorenzo C, Sewell KL, Hafler DA, Weiner HL. Effects of oral administration of type II collagen on rheumatoid arthritis. Science. 1993 Sep 24;261(5129):1727-30.
3) Lee SK, Posthauer ME, Dorner B, Redovian V, Maloney MJ. Pressure ulcer healing with a concentrated, fortified, collagen protein hydrolysate supplement: a randomized controlled trial. Advanced Skin Wound Care. 2006 Mar;19(2):92-6
4) Ablon, G. A Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Study Evaluating the Efficacy of an Oral Supplement in Women with Self-perceived Thinning Hair. Journal for Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. 2012 Nov; 5(11): 28–34.
5)Asserin J, Lati E, Shioya T, Prawitt J. The effect of oral collagen peptide supplementation on skin moisture and the dermal collagen network: evidence from an ex vivo model and randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. 2015 Dec;14(4):291-301.
6) Hexsel D, Zague V, Schunck M, Siega C, Camozzato FO, Oesser S. Oral supplementation with specific bioactive collagen peptides improves nail growth and reduces symptoms of brittle nails. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology 2017 Dec;16(4):520-526.
I am a self-crowned queen of one-pot meals. They make my world go round.
Recently I've been jamming on a tofu and veggie noodle soup dish that has been hitting the spot for weeks.
Now, soy has gotten a bad rap over the years, that has largely been unresolved. Before you dig into the following rant about that, get you soup going - it will be ready by the time you finish reading this.
There are two big things about soy that come up in my work with clients and conversations with other wellness junkies:
1) Soy is an allergen. It is one of the 7 most common food allergens, and for that reason can be problematic for people. People who have an allergy to soy may experience difficulty breathing, hives, rapid heart rate, tightening in their throat or chest, and other not fun and potentially life threatening symptoms.
An intolerance to soy (or any other food) could be less straightforward. Food intolerances are sneaky, sneaky. Symptoms include digestive upset of all shapes and sizes, muscle and joint pain, headaches and migraines, brain fog, fatigue, eczema and much more fun. An Elimination Diet is the best way to identify food intolerances.
2) Compounds in soy have been named "phyto-estrogens" and implicated in various health concerns, including the obesity epidemic - especially a pattern of fat accumulation that had been identified as "feminine" (i.e. breasts, butt and thighs) - early puberty, breast and other cancers of the sex organs.
Years ago, I heard a retelling of a conversation with the biochemist who identified phytoestrogens in which he reported regret for the naming of the compound, because it raised some significant alarm and dissuaded individuals from eating soy. I mean, when hormones like estrogen are implicated in all kinds of diseases, who would want to eat it? (this is all hearsay so don't quote me on it)
Phytoestrogens were named such because they resemble the chemical structure of estradiol, an active form of estrogen. This molecular mimicry allows phytoestrogens to attach to estrogen receptors in the body and exert a similar effect. While they're able to bind to these receptors, they do so weakly thereby exerting a weaker effect than estradiol or other forms of estrogen. The consequence of this is that estradiol remains in circulation and is therefore shuttled to detoxification and elimination.
What does that mean for our health?
Well, it turns out that these compounds, a class of isoflavones, actually protect against those cancers we previously feared. If you want to read more about that, I recommend this article by Dr. Tina Kaczor who dug into the literature to better understand what the relationship between soy consumption and cancer actually was.
Bottom line: People who are allergic or have an intolerance to soy should not eat it. But if you're not allergic to soy, even if you have a family history of breast cancer, bon appetit.
One last note on soy foods before I give you this delicious recipe: not all soy foods are created equal.
Imagine a drive through the Minnesota countryside: on your left you see corn waving in the wind as far as your eye can see. And on your right, you see soy replenishing the corn-depleted soil from last years growing season. Combined, corn and soy make up 50% of all crops grown in the US. We are so good at growing corn and soy that food scientists had to figure out what to do with all of it, and now byproducts of each are in virtually every box, bag or can of food.
If you read Dr. Kaczor's article, she'll make a case for including soy no matter the source. I have a little more conservative approach. When advising clients about choosing the foods with the highest nutritional value, I recommend limiting soy consumption to the whole food and traditionally fermented products: edamame, fermented tofu, tempeh, tamari or soy sauce. If shopping for soy milk, choose a product with the fewest ingredients possible...which should be water, soybeans and maybe some salt.
You ready for that recipe now?
This soup is best eaten freshly prepared. The noodles do not hold over well and will get unappealingly mushy if cooked and stored. Store your prepped ingredients separately for an easy to assemble meal.
INGREDIENTS for 4 servings:
*I am not affiliated with these brands and do not make a commission on recommended their products to you.
Americans tend to gain 1-2 pounds a year throughout their adult lives. For the majority of us, those pounds get packed on between Thanksgiving and New Year...and we don't lose it with our resolutions. A couple pounds here and there really isn't going to have a significant effect your health, but 10 pounds every decade adds up by the time you're 60. This means that keeping your wellness focus through the holiday hustle and bustle is not only a worthy effort, but can help you prevent heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and other chronic health conditions associated with high body mass. Your future-self will thank you!
What is it about the holidays that can completely dismantle healthy habits?! For me, it's the limitless sweets, bottomless wine, and the packed social calendar that disrupts my exercise, meditation and sleep schedule. Putting your finger on what derails you is the first step in preventing the fall down the slippery slope.
Here are some strategies I'll be using this year to holiday-proof my wellness goals. I may not be in control of what food is offered to me, but I sure am in control of what I put on my plate.
Sometimes I feel like the most courageous woman in this world. I have no hesitations when I leave my house: I know exactly who I am and what I'm doing here. I have value. I add value.
And then other days, I feel like I'm role playing in my life. Just pretending to know my stuff and have it all together. On these days I suffer from full on Impostor Syndrome and would rather curl up in a ball than engage with someone looking to me for answers. Every question feels like an inquisition, every celebration of someone else's success, a reflection of my failure.
(I'm going to just take a pause right here to acknowledge that my experience is NOT unique and I would put money on it that most of the people who read this are going to nod their heads and say, "me too.")
There are so many parts of my life that I navigate effortlessly. I find it easy to connect with people and have an elephant memory for them all. I'm that creep that remembers everything about anyone I have ever had a conversation with. I'm besties with all the baristas at my local coffeeshop and can't go anywhere in my neighborhood - scratch that: anywhere in Mpls - without running into someone I know. I have a big heart and I love with abandon.
There are also parts of my life, parts of me that I really struggle with. You know the saying, "you are your own worst critic?" I major in self-criticism. I get an A++. If I ever actually overcame self-criticism, I would graduate with honors. I never know enough. I'm never smart enough. I'm never good enough.
The positive side of this characteristic is that I am always open to learning and constantly striving to do better. But I'm frozen in this space of "never enough" that (to use a concept from my newest shero, Brene Brown) gets between me and wholehearted living.
I'm trying to reframe. To actually live the message I want to leave on this world. One I want to model for the young people in my life...and for everyone else too. Because here's the sad truth: lacking self-confidence is the biggest creativity killer there is.
Consider all the greatness you've witnessed in your lifetime that would never have happened if the creator of it gave into self doubt. You can buy a ticket and fly anywhere in the world, for crying out loud. Imagine if the Wright brothers sat on their porch one day and talked themselves out of building an airplane because they hadn't gone to college or done it before. We would still be traveling by boat and railway.
Smaller acts of greatness need also be mentioned. I mean creating airplanes is pretty cool, but I can think of endless examples of day-to-day greatness that have impacted me much more personally and profoundly. The generosity of strangers (who frankly have other things to do), the patience of parents, the commitment of teachers who just will not give up on a student. What would we miss if our mentors and leaders were too afraid to share their little nuggets of magic with us?
And what would the world - be it the microcosm of your neighborhood or the world at large - miss out on if YOU didn't share your little nuggets of magic?
I've started thinking about my tombstone as of late, and what message it was I wanted to leave on the planet when I died. It's kinda morbid, I know, but it's really helped me get over some lingering body image junk I was getting tired of. When I felt down on my body, I would remind myself that I didn't want "she was thin" to be the memory I leave on this world. So why was I spending so much of my energy trying to be that?
What is actually important to me? Loving people up and helping them find ways of loving themselves too. Do I need to wear a size 0 to do that? Nope. I can love at any size.
So I'm re-writing some tombstones these days and in so doing letting go of some limiting beliefs about myself.
This whole being human thing is kinda hard, huh? Good thing we've got each other.
I feel very fortunate and privileged to have encountered a lot of serendipity in my lifetime:
I met my best friends after taking a job at a coffeeshop two blocks away from my freshman dorm.
When I was 19, I enrolled in massage school to learn a trade so that I could support myself as a musician. What I found changed my life and gave me the tools I needed to overcome my eating disorder.
Looking for someone to keep me company during one especially cold MN winter, I met my wife (that's the best one of all).
And just over two years ago, I had breakfast with my colleague, Sara Jean Barrett and Wellness Minneapolis was born. Today's reminder of such kismet sat with me over coffee and shared a little friendly advice (thanks, Jana).
I really do think there are hidden gems in every day that need our acknowledgement and celebration. It's really easy to loose sight of them through the haze of this presidential campaign + extraordinary global and local violence + rampant racism, sexism, homophobia...oh, and work and chores and I could go on.
Point being: there are so many things to worry about. There are so many things to drag us down into a depression, if we let them. There are so many things that require attention, energy and effort. But there are also thousands of acts of kindness and inherent beauty that we can see if we just look.
So look, ok?
Nutrition is not intuitive.
At least not anymore. Not with all the nutrition noise in popular media. You can't open Facebook without receiving some (well-intentioned) message about how you should eat...and subsequently how you should look.
It frustrates me to no end.
Here's what I know to be true about eating healthfully: your body knows what it needs. It even knows how much of it it needs! Your body has such wisdom that if you tap into it you will never need to know a damn thing about macros, food combining, balanced meals or phytonutrients. You'll just eat.
Doesn't that sound NICE?!
We were born into this world with deep intuition and an innate ability to feed ourselves. But then something happened to cloud the clarity and muddle the message. Our families influenced our food beliefs. Our culture showed us that how we are is not thin enough, pretty enough, good enough and if only we avoided these foods that cause belly fat, we'd be thinner, prettier and good-er. But then we try that, right? And it doesn't work. So we try being vegan. And that doesn't flatten our stomach. So we try Paleo, and our thigh gaps still do not open. We probably ate too much tofu followed by too much bacon followed by something else that was 100% clearly our fault. Our failure. Rinse and repeat.
Here's the thing: food, even healthy food is not that hard. Believe it or not, eating vegetables and drinking water feels good. And you like to feel good. So feeding yourself healthy food is actually the path of least resistance. It's easy. The hard part is unplugging from society's expectation of what healthy looks like on a plate and in the mirror.
Health comes in all shapes and sizes. And yes, this is coming from a 5'11" woman who has weighed the same 145 pounds since college. You'd be fooling yourself if you thought I didn't need this reminder. Even skinny girls get the message that they're not thin enough, pretty enough, good enough. Not one beautiful soul is spared. I have never been "overweight" and I still spent most of my life fighting the monster in the mirror.
Here are 5 steps I took to build my nutrition intuition AND step into my own healthy beauty:
1. Eat at least 3 times a day.
I got so good at being hungry that for many years in the beginning of my recovery I had no idea when to eat and when to stop eating. Those hungry/satiated triggers were never quite on or off sending me crazily confusing messages. One way to overcome this is to eat at regularly scheduled times, at least 3 meals a day.
2. Eat real food.
I have a sad story to tell you: The ingredients in your food that makes them taste so good and last long enough on the shelf that aliens will be able to dine on them after human life as we know it ceases to exist...these are not food. These are chemicals meant to fool us into wanting and buying more. They're replacing whole food ingredients that, by their nature, do not last forever. These items are easily identified on food packages: you likely can't pronounce them and definitely won't be able to find them in nature.
Real food comes from the earth. Real foods are whole foods - vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, meat, eggs, nuts, seeds... And while it takes time to make them into a meal, you're body easily recognizes them as food and has no trouble discerning what to do with them. This is the key ingredient to building nutrition intuition. You can't unlock your body's secrets when you fuel it with Mac 'n Cheese, Lean Cuisines and Poptarts.
3. Every day practice self-care.
Drink water. Get sleep. Move your body. Express your emotions. Connect with your community. Live intentionally. Smile. You need all of this to learn and listen to your inner wisdom.
Don't expect perfection overnight. In my experience this takes months if not years to master. Every day is practice and you have all you need to succeed right inside your beating heart. But it this feel too big to tackle on your own, let me help, ok?
"If love could speak to you about food it would say, ‘Eat when you are hungry, sweetheart, because if you don’t, you won’t enjoy the taste of food. And why should you do anything you don’t enjoy?’
I spent the last week sharing my story with a bunch of strangers. It was totally awesome.
I completed an advanced training through the Center for Mind-Body Medicine - a righteous (in a good way) organization that is bringing self-care skills to people all over the world to support them in times of crisis and facilitate their healing process. CMBM is a really remarkable organization not just because of their mission but because the entire faculty practices what they preach. They walk the walk. They are a crew of the most empathic, open and loving people I've even met. I want to move in with them all.
There's something else happening at CMBM beyond just their incredible ability to handpick rockstar faculty. The model, created by James Gordon, MD, is magical.
1) It is built around group healing, which is both powerful and effective. Participating in community gets us off our islands and out of our heads. We are forced to show up for others and, maybe more importantly, let them be present for us. Sitting in a room full of people who are there to make their lives better is so awesome.
That it feels good is enough of a reason to participate in group healing, but there's more. Research shows that participants of support groups reduced their blood pressure, improved health behaviors and increased their quality of life1. For cancer patients, support groups improve quality of life, prolong life and reduce disease recurrence2, 3, 4. Research on the effects of participating in groups have also shown that they help low back pain5, improve metabolism and energy production (i.e. anti-aging)6, and reduce risk of heart disease7. There are so many more symptoms and diseases that have not been included in this research, so just take note of this evidence and consider what group support could do for you.
2) The second reason I love this work is that there is a practice of deep listening incorporated into every group, giving each person a captive audience to share thoughts, feelings, fears, family drama, work disappointments, stories that show the best and the worst of you without fear of being interrupted, judged or gossiped about. The purpose of these groups is to teach self-care tools, like meditation and guided imagery but for me this sharing and being shared with is the most magical and compelling piece.
And here's why:
Sharing and listening proves to us each that we are not alone. And that gives us the comfort and courage we need to keep up the good fight.
My group this last week included 10 women and one gentle-man who traveled from as far away as Japan. We were social workers, receptionists, psychologists, mothers, wives, betrothed, bisexuals, self conscious, damaged, lost, struggling and thriving. Every time one of us shared a piece of our life story there was this unanimous nod that went around the circle that said, "me too!"
I'm invisible. I am struggling through my pain. I don't like my body. I'm not living my life's purpose.
There is so much comfort in that shared experience, even if the story line is unique. We all have loss and regret and disappointment. We all struggle. And for most of us those struggles weighs on us more than our successes can pull us up and out of. Life is tough! But we're in it together.
I plan to continue my training with CMBM just so I can soak up as much of their magic as possible and then bring it back to my community and clients. I'll be pulling the techniques and skills I've learned through my training into my individual and group coaching sessions. Self-care is the bedrock of all health and wellbeing. We all need to practice it every day, even just for a moment.
I hope to facilitate a mind-body skills group this fall, so stay tuned! Sign up for my newsletter to learn more and stay in the loop.
References: see in text links to citations.