What you are NOT asking about healthy eating but definitely should (especially if you are struggling with weight issues)

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Are you struggling to lose weight?

Are you struggling to maintain your weight in spite of watching everything you eat and making sure it is healthy and wholesome?

Are you interested in going beyond healthy foods and the right “diet” to improve your health outcomes?

If you answered YES to any of these questions then this blog post is for you

These are some common health issues that my clients face. We address these as a part of complex chronic health conditions in my health coaching practice every single day. 

One of the questions that I get asked a lot at work and elsewhere is about which foods should one be eating or which particular “diet” they should be following. Since nutrition is a major part of my coaching practice, I discuss this in great details with my clients and come up with customised food plan solutions for each individual based on what their body needs at that time to heal. 

However, what I am most certainly NOT asked is about HOW they should be eating. We all know that the right type of foods makes a huge difference in our health outcomes but what we may not realise that it is equally important HOW we are eating and WHEN.

In this post, I have decided to share with you some of the key interventions that I introduce early in my coaching sessions regarding how we should all be eating in order to ensure maximum absorption of nutrients. This is often the missing piece in terms of seeing the health outcomes that my clients have been seeking for many years. This is particularly true for those who have been struggling to lose weight in spite of being focussed on eating healthy and wholesome foods. 

When hungry, just eat

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Except that many of us are struggling with knowing what to eat and when and have quite a complicated relationship with food. As infants and young children, we know intuitively what and how much to eat to satisfy our hunger. However, pretty soon as we start growing up food starts to serve many other purposes- to soothe, to distract, to entertain, to numb, to reward and even to punish. 

What was once a healthy, meaningful and simple relationship gets entangled in all sorts of thoughts and emotions many of which are not constructive.

Our simple cues of hunger and satisfaction get hijacked by our conditioning and our minds. Where we were once completely tuned in to our bodies and used our intuition to guide us to healthy eating habits and food choices, we struggle to do so once we become adults.

What we need to keep in mind here is that it is not constructive and fruitful to assign blame to people and situations that led us to this place. It is, however extremely empowering for us to realise that we have the power within ourselves to first become aware of this conditioning and then do what is necessary to change our habits and negative patterns that have become a way of life.

One bite (or sip) at a time

How many times have you sat down to eat your food while watching your favourite show or while doing something on your phone only to finish your food without any real recollection of the taste, smell and any real sense of satisfaction?

We have a cardinal rule in our house: no phones at the table. At all.

This applies to our guests and all the family members. With a 13 yo and an almost 10 yo it becomes extremely critical for my husband and me to portray what kind of habits we want them to develop while eating. It doesn't really matter how young or old our children may be, as parents we are most certainly  ROLE MODELS for our children and we need to lead by example.

The point I am making is this. Whether we are working on our own health issues or trying to inculcate good habits in our children, the process is really the same. And it all starts by developing awareness. And this does not need to extremely complicated. Start by taking a small step today.

“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called."

A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

 

Do this: when you have your first cup of tea (or coffee) in the morning, take your time to really savour it. Take a few extra moments and notice the colour and the aroma of the tea. Feel the liquid in your mouth and throat as you take a small sip. Notice the warmth as it goes down your throat and allow it to fill your body with its warmth and flavour. Repeat this till the cup is empty. If possible, take a moment to thank the people and the process behind the cup of tea that you hold in your hand.

 

A mind (not food) journal  

You may already be aware of the concept of keeping a food journal or using some kind of tracker to track the number of calories or even the categories of foods you are consuming. This is usually quite common in most of the traditional “diets”, especially where weight loss is concerned.  

We eat to satisfy many types of hunger beyond the obvious physiological needs that we have as living beings. We eat to feed the hunger of our eyes, our hunger for aroma, for sensations and our minds.

We eat when we are....

Lonely

Sad

Heartbroken

However, you must understand that no matter how much food we put in our stomach, it can never satisfy or ease the emptiness in our hearts. This is where a mood journal can help you to understand why you eat. While doing this it is very important to use a compassionate and kind voice and not judge yourself for the choices that you are making right now as this process can become counterproductive otherwise. Remember, this is to help you to become more aware and in tune with your eating habits.

The mood journal can be written using the various prompts given below. 

Track the foods that you are eating for a month and write down how they affect your mind, body, thoughts, and feelings

What foods do you eat when you are sad or lonely? (make a list of foods)

When you feel like having a snack or a drink in between meals, what were your thoughts and feelings just before you decided to have one?

You may find that some patterns emerge as a common threat across different situations that help you to understand your eating habits. In time you may also learn to make healthy substitutions and find alternatives to take care of yourself without using food as a crutch. Sometimes overeating and mindless eating are just tips of the iceberg. Food is more easily obtainable and more socially acceptable than other types of addiction and since we must eat every day it can be really easy to become a slave to our need for food.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion”

—Dalai Lama

The solution, however, is not to judge or criticise ourselves every time you overeat or eat foods that you know are not good for you. A very important part of changing your eating habits is to first change the way you talk to yourself. This is often the most difficult part of the journey for my clients. However, self compassion is indeed the way out to break free from the vicious cycle of overeating, self criticism and shame.

Given below are 5 steps that you can take today to practice self awareness and tap into your intuition to guide you to make healthier choices-

Sit down at the table for each and every meal including all snacks so that you can slow down every time you eat

Notice how you are eating- fast or slow? Mindlessly munching or enjoying each bite?

Stop multitasking and focus on the food in front of you (having a conversation with loved ones however, is not a distraction)

Notice how “hungry” you really are on a scale of 1 to 10 and try and eat accordingly

Bring into your awareness feelings of gratitude for those who were involved in bringing this food to your table (right from the farmer to the cook)

As you do this exercise you may notice your relationship with food changes over time. You may find that as you become more tuned in to your body, you start making healthier choices and start to develop healthy eating habits. You may also find that you are able to stop using food to satisfy your needs and are finally free to find other ways of soothing and taking care of yourself. Most importantly, you are able to let go of following a certain "diet" and start eating what is right for YOU. 

(However, in today’s modern world there are many external triggers and forces at play which are capable of drowning out these inner voices of wisdom and intuition. In the follow up post next week I focus on these external aspects of eating by redesigning our environment and putting in place some strategies that have been shown to work.)

Motivation, habits and willpower- what you need to know to change your life

Reading Time: 6 minutes

In my last post "5 steps that you can take today which will help you to start new, healthy habits this year", I had written about 5 steps that you can take to inculcate healthy habits in the new year. In this follow up post, I delve a bit deeper into what actually drives us to take action, create new habits and make changes in our lives. 

“At some point, the pain of not doing it becomes greater than the pain of doing it.”

-Steven Pressfield

I have noticed that for many of us what drives us to take action is ultimately our suffering that finally becomes too much to ignore any longer. This is not to judge anyone for doing this since pretty much all of us tend to do this at some time or the other. We procrastinate till either a looming deadline or some other incentive comes along prompting us to take that much needed action.

However, this becomes a big issue only when it permeates every aspect of our decision making, becomes a habit and starts affecting our health, career and relationships. In fact, many chronic health issues could be prevented or at the very least managed much better if we knew how to motivate ourselves to take action on a consistent basis. In my coaching practice, a major part of my work as a Health Coach is to use motivational interviewing techniques with my clients. This is a client centred discussion using open ended questions which helps them uncover their own reasons to change while at the same time providing a safe, non judgemental and compassionate environment for them to do so.

The good thing is that we can learn to be self motivated and that self motivation is a skill which can be learned and developed through practice. However, it does require a certain degree of self awareness and self exploration. I have written several posts on this topic and you can read them here and here

"The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change"

-Carl Rogers

Take some time and reflect upon some changes that you know you need to make but are unable to find the energy or the motivation to do so. Given below are a few of questions that you may want to ask yourself at this point to gain more clarity in terms of uncovering your reasons for making these changes in your life.

(reflect on these questions and write them down in your journal)

What makes you think you need to change?

What will happen if you don’t change?

What will be different in your life if you do make these changes?

Waiting for the right moment

Too many of us wait for external circumstances to change before we make any changes. The “right time” or the “right moment” to take action somehow never seems to arrive and sadly we end up waiting till the end of their lives without taking that action. This kind of thought process is applicable to starting a new business, creating art, writing a book, creating a new habit or for that matter any other endeavour.

Intrinsic motivation is necessary for making sure that we take action on a consistent basis. This is because intrinsic motivation is based on personal values and self awareness that leads to enjoyment, satisfaction and interest in the action being taken. As you may have realised by now, this kind of self motivation is the difference between our feeling that “we have to” do something as opposed to our feeling that “we get to” do something. It is thus the difference between feeling forced, unsatisfied and unhappy in contrast to feeling satisfied, fulfilled and energised. 

Decision fatigue is real

We also tend to have a lot of faith in our willpower in creating new habits and achieving our goals. We wrongly believe that successful people have more of it than others. However, research now shows that willpower is like a muscle and gets used up and fatigued as we keep using it time and again. This has major implications for many of the decisions that we take on a regular basis and in particular those decisions which affect major parts of our life.

Knowing this, we can prioritise and schedule our most important work first thing in the day when our willpower is at its highest. We can also plan our day ahead and automate decisions that we take every single day- what to eat; what to wear; which project to work on first etc. This leaves us with enough willpower to put apply our minds to the work that is important for us. This is so important for productivity that I have written an entire post about it here. rather than leaving it to our willpower we can learn ways to prevent this from taking place.

This strategy is something that has enabled me to be productive as a mother, full time entrepreneur and a health coach. 

 Our environment matters

Our environment is another factor which can either undermine or support our decision to take action. While it is very easy to blame the environment when things go wrong we forget that the environment that we live in drives both our good and bad behaviours. We can thus learn how to design our environment so that it supports rather than undermine our efforts in making changes in our lives and then sustaining them. 

According to James Clear (an author, entrepreneur who writes about self improvement ) there are 3 main ways to do this. 

Automating good decisions so that we can overcome procrastination by making it easier for us to take action. For eg. scheduling and using a social media blocking app at certain times in the day to reduce procrastination and distractions

Making the cues of good habits stand out in our environment so that we are more likely to notice them and act on them. Eg. keeping our workout clothes and shoes right next to our bed so that it is the first thing we see when we wake up.

Subtracting the negative influences in our environment by making them invisible. For eg. I rarely get those foods at home which I do not want my children (and family) to consume since I know it is not good for our health. 

Clarity, not chance

Many of us are also not very clear about exactly what we will be doing in order to achieve the goals that we set for ourselves. For eg. if we are planning to eat a healthy diet, are we clear on the following?  What type of meals are we going to make? Salads or soups? Which days are we planning to have these? Every single day or on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesdays? Are we going to cook these meals or outsource them?

The more clarity we have on how we plan to implement a new habit or reach a goal the more likely it is that we will be able to achieve it. If it is not very obvious when and where we need to take action it becomes difficult for us to implement it. (In my last post I had shared with you 5 steps that you can take to start new habits, you can read it here)

And last but not least, I have also shared with you some steps to help you feel more motivated today

  • Setting realistic, specific goals for yourself
  • Assessing and being able to take the right level of risk
  • Developing a constant love of learning to acquire new skills and knowledge
  • Being committed to personal and professional growth as opposed to merely wishing something would happen
  • Learning to become resilient by accepting and dealing with failure and moving on 
  • Reminding yourself often of your “why”
  • Taking the time to rest and recharge regularly
  • Getting help when needed

The bottom line is that there is no ONE particular thing that you can do which will help you to make these changes. The decisions that we take and the choices that we make every single day matter much more than you think and have long term consequences. 

As the famed philosopher, Socrates had said "The secret to change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old but on building the new."

What you need to know to help you take lasting action in the new year (and a list of books/podcast/videos)

Reading Time: 4 minutes

As I sat down to write the second last post of this year I started thinking about the expectation and hope that we have from what life has to offer us in the new year.

However, what also bothered me was this.

Why is it that...

there are so many people who make promises to themselves at the very beginning of the year with the best of intentions but are rarely able to fulfil them?

some people struggle so much to take action while others keep moving forward and leave them far behind?

In the end, I decided to write 2 posts on this topic as we head into the new year. The first one is all about taking action while the second one is about motivating yourself to make changes in your life and then learn ways to sustain them. 
(I have shared with you some resources like podcasts, youtube videos and books at the end that covers topics like taking action, accepting responsibility and self motivation)
What is that stops so many us from taking steps to move towards our goals?
To create something that we love?
To move forward?
To become better at what we do and reach our goals?

The voice in our head

The thing to remember here is that ALL of us struggle with self doubt and procrastinate from time to time. It becomes a problem only when it stops us from taking action and producing the results that we want in life. We are often unaware of the voice in our heads (our thoughts) which can discourage us and stop us from taking action. In fact, if we are not aware of its presence, we end up believing many of the negative stories that it tells us.  

 

Have you ever said to yourself?

“I dont have the time”

“I am too busy”

 “It would take too much time” 

 “It’s all their fault”

 “The time is’nt right”

I certainly have! Many times as a matter of fact and I still do from time to time. The good news is that I have become better and better at catching these thoughts and becoming aware of the stories I tell myself. As a result, I have been able to make decisions and take action steps which are intentional and fruitful. 

Stuck in passive action 

Many of us can get stuck in the passive action phase and never be able to move forward. While it is certainly important to gather information before starting anything whether it is through courses, classes and qualifications like degrees, we need to be able to apply it in our lives. It is indeed very difficult to produce any worthwhile results without taking any risks and/or dealing with failure and discomfort.
In other words, by getting stuck in the passive action phase, we can become unable to "produce" any tangible results. This has a bearing on both our personal and professional lives. We remain stuck in painful relationships, jobs and situations which no longer serve us. And rather than putting in the effort to take action steps to make some much needed changes in our lives, we choose to stay put. 
Knowing your mind

Too often we allow negative (instead of positive) emotions to drive our need to do something. A classic example is that of people who try to lose weight by starving and depriving themselves of proper nutrition; this is not sustainable in the long run and usually backfires in terms of health outcomes. 

At the end of the day, we need to be really clear about what we actually want to produce before we start working on something and know what it will look like. If you are cooking something for the first time and not sure about what it is you are cooking or what it will look like, it becomes much more difficult for you to do so, isn’t it?

Taking responsibility for our life

Many people believe that life happens "to" them and much of what happens is beyond their control. They give up even before they try anything out properly since they believe there is not much they can do about changing the outcome. In fact, this limiting belief is very commonly used to justify why someone is unable to take any action. As a result, many remain stuck in the same painful relationship/life situation/ work for years unable to move forward. They are simply unaware that they are in control of their own response to a situation and have the power to choose one thought over another. 

They simply allow their feelings, emotions, circumstances and other people’s agenda to determine their own course of action and as a result their entire life. As a result, inspite having the best of intentions, they end up NOT focussing on the very things that matter to them or bring meaning to their life. 

Infact I have written an entire post about this topic and you can read it HERE.

Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction

And last but not the least, very often we get stuck on taking action only when we are certain of getting “perfect” results. Our fear of failure holds us back. As a result, we do not even try to produce the results we want or give up easily if it is too hard. We forget that is is only time and repeated action through practice which helps us to develop the skills required to produce results at the highest level. 

I leave you with some amazing resources which have changed the way I think about this topic and inspired me to take action no matter how hard it seems. This is a collection of podcasts, books and videos which have truly enriched my life.

A list of non toxic personal care products to support your skin this winter

Reading Time: 5 minutes

In my last post, I had written about 6 ways that you can nourish and hydrate your skin this winter from the inside out.

In this post, I am focussing on the external environment that impacts the health of our skin especially the products that we apply to our skin. While it is beyond the scope of this article to list down ALL the issues associated with the types of products which are available today, I have highlighted the main issues and also listed down a few of the products that are my current favourite. 

Not many of us realise that cosmetics and other personal care products go more than skin deep

Personal care products and our health

We absorb the products that we use through our skin into our tissue and then circulate them throughout our body; we also breathe them in through fragrance and even "eat" these all day long. However, the chemicals they contain are not harmless and many of them are known to be endocrine disruptors. Even minuscule amounts of toxins in these products can have a profound effect on our health. Also, since women naturally have more fatty tissues than men AND use more products in general, women tend to accumulate much higher volumes of these toxins in their fat cells.

From the time girls enter their teens and start using personal care products like cosmetics, toxins start accumulating in their bodies. This process continues well into their adult life until it starts draining away their health and vitality. It is now estimated that by the time a woman leaves for work she has used a dozen products and cosmetics comprising over 168 different chemical ingredients which are toxic to the body (the average man can use upto 6 products in a day).

Toxins- hiding in plain sight

What you may not know is that while the label on a product may list some of the ingredients, manufacturers are not required to disclose the composition of "fragrances" and other "trade secrets" which allows for a lot of toxic exposure. Some of the more common toxins found in personal care products are phthalates, triclosan, parabens, DEA, aluminium, acrylates which can contribute to various health conditions in our bodies including but not limited to different forms of cancer, insulin resistance, thyroid, diabetes etc.

 

 

Endocrine disruptors and insulin resistance

In particular, phthalates are called endocrine disruptors since they can really mess up our natural hormonal balance by interacting with the endocrine receptor sites on cells throughout the body. By doing so, they can increase the production of certain hormones, interfere with hormone signalling and interrupt neutron connections necessary for the brain to function properly, decrease the production of thyroid hormones and block insulin receptor sites on cells so glucose can not get inside to produce energy. Exposure to even small traces of environmental toxins like these can interfere with glucose and cholesterol metabolism and induce insulin resistance and obesity through various pathways which include inflammation, high levels of oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction and issues with appetite regulation.

Reducing toxic load

One of the best ways to reduce toxic load and support your body is to stay away from avoidable toxins found in the personal care products. Many of us are aware of and find ways to help our body's natural detoxification process by addressing constipation, hydration and consuming organic produce. However, there is little point in detoxification if you keep putting in new toxins in the body. It is also always simpler and better if you do not take these toxins into the body, to begin with.

You can do this by

cutting down on  your daily use of personal care products (including bathing and cleaning products)

learning to read the labels on the products you intend to use so that you are aware of what they consist of and take an informed decision(refer to the Environmental Working Group resource shared below)

replacing your existing products with healthier alternatives

Personal care products- a revolution

The good news is that awareness has certainly grown amongst consumers regarding the safety of the products that they are using and they have become selective in buying these products.  The digital revolution has made it easier than ever for consumers to get information about this topic and has also led them to figure out that some of these chemicals are completely unnecessary. And as demand has been growing for products which are safe and sustainable (not only in terms of our health but also the health of our entire planet) many companies have started reformulating their products.

What I personally find really encouraging is the fact that in India (and all over the world) many small businesses have started manufacturing products which are natural, safe and sustainable. These companies are led by concerned and determined individuals who are intent on creating healthier alternatives which harness the power of nature using traditional principles like that of ayurveda.

My personal favourites

I have shared with you below a list of local brands that my family and I have either used in the past or are using currently.

Please note that you will need to do your own due diligence in terms of the ingredients in each of these products since each of us has different threshold levels regarding toxin exposure, detoxification capabilities and can sometimes react differently to the same product. Also, sometimes the formulation of these products change and need to be reevaluated from time to time. Use your own intuition to guide you as you select those that suit you and those that you may need to avoid.

My top 10 favourite brands are

Kama Ayurveda

Forest Essentials

Mama Earth

The Mom's Co

Raw Nature

Soul Tree

Petal Fresh

The Skin Pantry

Organic India

Ruby's Organics

 

The fact is, what we put on our bodies is entirely up to us. Also, what you need to remember is that even if you are in good health, toxins are still a problem for you. When you are young and do not have any symptoms or disease, it is simply because your body can easily bounce back from these daily exposures. However, as you grow older, toxins start accumulating in your body and invisible damage starts taking place. Hence, the earlier you become aware of this and start working on avoiding toxins the better will be the outcome for you and your family in the long run.

Remember....

Beautiful skin requires commitment. Not a miracle

-Erno Lazlo

 

(I have shared the recipe for the natural and moisturising body butter that I make for my family and friends every winter as a FREE download below)

FREE DOWNLOAD : "Home made body butter recipe using only 3 ingredients"

6 ways to nourish your skin in winter

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Are you struggling to ensure that your skin is well moisturised in this dry weather?

Do you moisturise your skin regularly and yet still struggle to keep it moist and supple?

This is a real struggle for most of us as the weather changes and the days and nights becomes dry and cold. In my health coaching practice, many of my coaching clients suffer from chronic skin conditions and have a tough time keeping their skin moisturised at all times of the year. The winter season can be especially hard for those who have very sensitive and dry skin.

If you have dry skin issues you are definitely not alone. In this post, I have written about SIX ways that you can nourish yourself through food and keep your skin well hydrated and moisturised in the dry season. At the end of the day, the appearance of your skin is simply a manifestation of what is going on inside your body. Mineral imbalances, toxin overload, oxidative stress and underlying chronic inflammation all contribute to various skin disorders. 

There may also be other potential causes for dry skin like low estrogen, nutritional deficiencies, bathing too much. However, most people benefit quite a bit by focusing on foods which address nutrient deficiencies and keeping our bodies well hydrated. 

(I have shared the recipe for the natural and moisturising body butter that I make for my family and friends every winter as a FREE download at the end of this post)

6 ways to nourish your skin this winter

  1. Hydration is key and is always the FIRST step that I recommend. Many of us can become chronically dehydrated as we usually end up drinking less water as we sweat less and feel less thirsty during this season. Ensuring adequate amounts of water intake is critical in maintaining good skin health as it serves many purposes including cleansing toxins from our body.
  2. Decrease your intake of tannins. Black tea (and to a lesser extent in green tea and coffee) is loaded with tannins which are polyphenols or phytonutrients that plants produce to protect itself from predators like insects and germs. Tannins are dehydrating and are what gives tea and red wine their distinct bitter flavour. Make sure to reduce intake of all forms of tea (black, green, white) as this has nothing to do with whether it is caffeinated or not. 
  3. The third thing that I recommend is to increase the intake of omega 3 fatty acids. This is another key driver of dry and flaky skin. Most of us are deficient in this essential fatty acid since it is very low in our modern diets. The best sources of omega 3 fatty acids are fatty, oily fish like salmon, cod, sardines, seaweed and algae, chia/flax/hemp seeds, walnuts, soy bean. I also usually recommend a high quality omega 3 supplement  for most of my clients since it is often difficult to get adequate quantities of omega 3 fatty acids from these food sources.
  4. Focus on foods rich in Vitamin A, Zinc and Vitamin E as they are all important for skin health. Zinc is critical for the formation of collagen, a protein molecule that forms connective tissue and skin. Foods rich in Zinc are meat, shellfish, legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans), seeds (pumpkin, hemp), nuts, eggs, dairy, whole grains (wheat, rice, oats). Vitamin E helps to combat oxidative stress and keeps the skin youthful. Foods rich in this fat soluble nutrient are sunflower seeds, almonds, avocados, other nuts (like hazelnut, pinenut), spinach and other greens. Vitamin A is a fat soluble nutrient that plays an essential role in body growth, immune health, vision, reproductive and skin health. Good sources of vitamin A are animal liver, cod liver oil, egg, sweet potato, carrot, spinach, broccoli, mango, watermelon and papaya.
  5. Low vitamin D level is yet another major contributor to dry skin. Ideally, you should be getting adequate vitamin D naturally from sun exposure but this becomes doubly hard in this season. Supplements can help in boosting the levels once you know what your current levels are. Also, food sources which are high in vitamin D  are pretty much similar to the food sources for Vitamin E. 
  6. Bone broth or collagen supplement is another thing that I recommend for my clients who consume animal products. Collagen is the protein most abundant in our body and is the building block for connective tissues which you find in joints, bones, muscles, ligaments, skin and hair. We start making less and less collagen as we age and it lessens the skin elasticity and hydration leading to dry skin and the formation of wrinkles. Bone broth is a simple way of harnessing the benefits of collagen through food sources like bone broth, organ meats and egg yolks. For those of you who are unable to make this at home, you can add collagen to your daily smoothie or juice in the form of a supplement. My favourite supplement is this one. For those of you looking for a plant based option, check out this one

FREE DOWNLOAD : "Home made body butter recipe using only 3 ingredients"