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Coffee.

The preferred drug of pretty much every parent, entrepreneur or achiever on the planet.

In the wellness community, there is a lot of advice to give up coffee to either ease your gut or calm your adrenals…but is it really that bad for you? And, who in their right mind would ever consider giving up coffee?

Me, for one. I went caffeine free in May. It started because I caught my son’s particularly nasty stomach bug at the end of April and literally couldn’t stomach coffee for three days. I figured, since the caffeine headaches were behind me and I was devoting my energy to working out every day in May, why don’t I just give up coffee and see what happens? It gave me a lot of time to think about my relationship with the stuff…seeing as it felt pretty much essential to life at that point.

Argument One: Coffee has health benefits

It’s true: as maligned as it is, coffee is fairly well-researched and has documented health benefits. The reason for this? Well, it’s a plant extract. Coffee contributes a meaningful amount of phyto-chemicals and minerals like magnesium to the diet.

Roasting coffee beans sharply increases the number of active compounds versus green beans.The chemical complexity of roasted coffee is astounding. Caffeine is a documented mental and physical performance enhancer that may have mild-antidepressant effects. Chlorogenic acid, another main component of coffee, is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. Coffee intake, both caffeinated and decaffeinated, is associated with lower risk of type two diabetes; both chlorogenic acid and alkaloids in coffee are thought to protect against diabetes. In addition, systematic reviews have found no association or a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease with coffee consumption.

Argument Two: Coffee can over-stimulate

Coffee can overstimulate the nervous system, which isn’t fun if you have brain-gut conditions. As someone with irritable bowel syndrome, I can attest to the digestion stimulating effect of caffeinated coffee. Some people love that, using their morning cup of coffee to guarantee a little bathroom time. However, if you have digestive issues that lean to the overzealous, it’s probably not a good thing.

Coffee activates the hypothalamic-pituitary axis; those with a tendency to anxiety might feel worse when they add coffee to the mix. Long term heavy use of caffeinated coffee is associated with high blood pressure and can cause heart palpitations. However, one clinical trial found that healthy, habitual users of caffeine had an increase in sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system activity without increased cortisol leading researchers to predict a positive anti-stress effect although the trial was conducted in non-stressful conditions and we often use coffee to help us cope with high intensity days.

I find that for me, when I am in a high-energy, potentially anxious state, coffee makes it worse. However, if I am relaxed and happy, I tend not to feel overstimulated by a cup of coffee.

Argument Three: We often misuse coffee

It’s important to note that while coffee can help keep you alert temporarily, it does not replace the benefits of regular adequate sleep and its going to overstimulate your exhausted body. In addition, if you have a rough night and drink a lot of coffee to keep you up, the prolonged half-life of caffeine in the body (6 hours) means that your coping mechanism could lead to another terrible night. Try and cut off your caffeine intake by lunchtime. If I need a pick-me-up, I drink decaf coffee in the afternoon.

In addition, while black coffee isn’t an unhealthy drink, most of us consume it with all manner of sugar and creamy-type things that can make what should be a zero calorie, zero sugar beverage more closely resemble cheesecake-in-a-cup. And the health risks of consuming those kind of drinks are very well documented.

I recommend that if you consume caffeine, you keep it in the 1-3 cup range (an actual, 250ml cup)…not three extra large americanos! Go for unsweetened lattes or americanos and add just a touch of sugar if you need it to neutralize bitterness.

Argument Four: Our reaction to coffee is individualized

Our genetics, metabolic impact of our food choices and our gut flora help determine how we respond to our environments, which includes food and drink. Some of us are fast metabolizers of caffeine; it is thought that fast metabolizers may gain more benefit than slow metabolizers. We are just scratching the surface of our understanding of individualized responses to nutrition. For now, we have to default to experimenting and being mindful of how coffee affects us.

Before my caffeine-free month, I could tell that it was stimulating my gut more than I would like..but not to the point where I was willing to give it up. During the month, I noticed that not only did my gut calm down but my rosacea was less pronounced. I didn’t feel more tired or like I had lower energy. All this in a month where I was routinely working very long days and not getting a lot of rest. Not surprised…just annoyed with myself for ignoring this effect so I could justify my coffee habit! See, dietitians can rationalize less healthful behaviours just like anyone else.

I have clients for whom 1-2 cups of coffee per day has no noticeable negative effect on their gut or their mental wellbeing. Others run to the bathroom just thinking about coffee. Coffee may exacerbate ulcers, reflux or interstitial cystitis so whether or not coffee is good for you will depend on your current health state. And the best way to figure this out is to go without coffee for 1-2 weeks and then see how you feel. I recommend tapering down before your abstinence period to decrease risk of headaches and other side effects.

Bottom Line

Coffee isn’t unhealthy; but we don’t all feel our best when we are consuming it. Now that my month without caffeine is over, I tried consuming caffeinated coffee but realized I really don’t need it…especially because I have really good decaf. However, what I did miss was matcha. I find that using 1/2 teaspoon of matcha feels non-stimulatory while 1 teaspoon now feels fairly stimulatory in my newly less caffeinated self. Love coffee? Does it seem to agree with you? Then buy the best you can afford, and enjoy less, more mindfully. It can absolutely fit in a healthy, anti-inflammatory life.

Photo by Mike Marquez on Unsplash

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Let’s talk snacks.

For some reason, most of us don’t think about eating vegetables as snack foods. Yes, some of us munch raw veggies with dip…but what about really going for it?? Making snacks where veggies are the intentional star of the show? 

I love roasted broccoli so much. And shichimi togarashi, a Japanese spice blend made with chili flakes, sesame and nori, makes roasted broccoli extra special. You’ll usually find it at a Japanese grocer. Here in Vancouver, my first stop is Fujiya on Clark.

You can also just make these with a healthy lashing of dried chile flakes too…so don’t worry if you can’t find togarashi!

The dip is savoury and creamy and totally addictive. I’ve sped up the roasting process by roasting at really high heat so even when you have a craving you can have this on the table in about 30 minutes.

Togarashi Roasted Broccoli with Miso Cashew Dip Serves 4 as a snack. Or one me.
Dairy Free, Gluten Free, Vegan, Vegetarian

Roasted Broccoli:
1.5 – 2 pounds (625 g – 900 g) broccoli crowns
¼ cup (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
Salt
Chili flakes or Togarashi

Dip:
1 cup (250 ml) raw cashews, soaked for four hours
1-2 cloves garlic, microplaned/grated
2 tablespoons (30 ml) white (shiro) miso paste
1 teaspoon (5 ml) nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons (10 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water. (yes, 1 tbsp shy of a half cup!)

Preheat oven to 450 C.

Cut broccoli into florets, place in large bowl and toss with olive oil, salt and a healthy dose of togarashi or chile flakes.

Place on baking sheet, roast for 10 minutes, turning broccoli and roasting for another 5 minutes until nicely browned in parts.

Meanwhile, in a small blender or large jar with an immersion blender, place cashews, garlic, miso, nutritional yeast, lemon juice and water and blend until smooth. Serve with broccoli warm or at room temperature.

FYI: you can get away with not soaking your cashews…they just blend up a little silkier if you do.

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You guys know that I’m all about that plant-based life. Of course, I have to be honest: high fibre living is not without its quirks. When my clients adopt a plant-based diet, it’s not uncommon for them to feel kind of bloated.

It’s not a ton of fun to have to deal with excessive gas and bloating; as you eat more whole plant foods, it may be a dramatic change from the foods you have eaten in the past. Moving from a low fibre, high starch and high sugar diet to one that is filled with high fibre plants is one of the best things you can do for your overall health and vitality. It also requires your body to adapt…which takes a bit of time.

Your digestive secretions adapt in response to how your diet evolves over time, as do your gut bacteria.

As you continue to eat a high fibre diet, beneficial gut bacteria, experts at fermenting your leftover plant fibre, will continue to grow and crowd out other less helpful bacteria that may be causing sluggish digestion or bloat-inducing inflammation.

If you’re feeling bloated, consider these strategies to help ease your transition:

Drink a ton of water

All that extra fibre you are consuming requires a significant amount of water to work its magic. In fact, without adequate water, fibre will have the opposite effect. Yep. It’s literally plugging you up. Whenever your elimination is sluggish, you will be bloated because if there is a lot of stool in the gut, it will hinder the movement of gasses. The gasses that do escape will also be extra smelly. In addition, if you’re dehydrated, your gut will attempt to retrieve water from your stool, further slowing down transit in the process.

How much water to drink? Well, I hate to say it…but it’s very individualized. Ideally, drink enough water to be urinating pale urine (unless you take B vitamins or meds that change urine colour) every couple of hours. If you are larger, more active or it’s hot out, you will need more than someone who is smaller, less active or in the winter. Keep a one litre bottle of water at your side, you’ll probably want to fill it up at least twice a day.

Chew thoroughly

This sounds too ridiculously obvious to be meaningful but plant cell walls take a considerable amount of grinding to break down properly. Why does this matter? All of the acid and enzymes that your food encounters post swallow work best when there is more surface area to attach to. So chewing is the one act of digestion that you have control over…which will optimize the process. Be mindful that you have fully chewed before you choose to swallow.

Blending foods can also improve digestion; if you are feeling like kale is difficult to digest, try adding it to smoothies, or blending into a pesto. New to beans? Make hummus your first stop on the legume train. A word to the blender-wise: if you love smoothies, be mindful about how you consume them. If you chug a 500ml smoothie, you will place a lot of nutrients into the gut quickly and likely feel bloated. Instead, sip slowly and actually chew your smoothie. That’s right! Make the physical motion of chewing before you swallow and it will help slow you down, giving the enzymes in your saliva a bit more contact with the food.

Get warmed up.

I do a lot of work in digestive health and when my clients first see me, they may be having trouble tolerating raw vegetables. However, cooked vegetables may be much easier for them to handle…so it also may work for you! Enjoy more cooked foods over raw as you transition. Cooking foods lightly helps gently break them down and makes them easier on the digestive process. Give a quick steam, roast, stir fry or saute until hot and fork tender but not mushy.

Be consistent

If consciously trying to increase fibre intake, it’s not uncommon to add a lot of high fibre foods to a single meal, such as breakfast, which can place a heavy fibre load on the gut. Instead, try to eat high fibre foods at each meal, such as beans, berries or hardy vegetables. Adding smaller fibre doses – say 10 grams – throughout the day will feel better than one large dose.

This is also the perfect place to talk about beans and lentils. If you are new to beans and start eating 2 cups of them a day, you are going to be pretty bloated. Instead, start small. Add ¼ cup of beans to one of your meals every single day. Give your body the clear signal that it needs to adapt without going overboard. You can gradually go up to a half cup and then a full cup at a meal. Enjoy lower fibre proteins like organic tofu or hemp seeds at other meals as you transition.

Get a little supplemental help

Usually the first place people head when they are feeling bloated is digestive enzymes, which can help you feel better in the short term but I don’t agree that they are a long term solution unless you have a diagnosed deficiency in pancreatic enzyme production.

The reason for this stance is that a) your body will adapt given the chance and b) all of those undigested fibres are food for your gut bacteria.

The body was not designed to, nor does it require, that you digest and absorb 100% of your food intake. Waste happens…it’s supposed to.

I am of course a big advocate for a little probiotic support. Especially if your diet was less than healthy previously, a good probiotic can help your gut bacteria bounce back quicker. I also love natural herbal support for digestion. Ginger, fennel and peppermint are all excellent at soothing angry, bloated guts. You can chew fresh, picked or dried ginger or sip as a tea throughout the day; chew a few organic fennel seeds post meal or enjoy a strong peppermint tea or a few drops of food grade peppermint oil to cool you down.

If you are eating a healthy, plant-based diet a little gas will always be a part of your life. It means that your gut is functional, you have good bacteria in there and….you are eating your fibre. However, daily discomfort and bloating is a sign that you need some extra support. Give these strategies a try and hopefully they will help you love your plant-based life!

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Stuff on toast is pretty much one of my required food groups. And yes, I love avocado toast as much as any of you do…but I have also been known to heap random piles of leftovers onto toast, perhaps with a swoop of hummus or tapenade, and call it a meal. 

Despite this obsession love, I don’t think I have ever shared a toast recipe with you!!

No time like the present, particularly because fresh spring peas are just around the corner. These toasts make a perfect brunch appetizer or hearty lunch either on their own or with a bit of lemony arugula on the side. This recipe comes together in about 15 minutes and is delicious even with frozen peas so you can actually enjoy it year round.

Spring Pea Toasts with Mint and Leek Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a meal Dairy Free, Gluten Free, Nut Free, Vegan, Vegetarian

2 tablespoons (30 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup (250 ml) sliced leeks
1 sliced garlic clove
1/3 – 1/2 jalapeño *see note
2 cups (500 ml) freshly shelled or thawed frozen peas
1 tablespoon (15 ml) fresh mint, cut into thin strips
1 tablespoon (15 ml) lemon juice
¼ teaspoon (1 ml) salt
Freshly cracked pepper

4 slices of your favourite bread
Vegan mayonnaise (optional)

Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Sauté leeks until softened and glossy, about 5 – 6 minutes. Add garlic and jalapeño, saute for 1-2 minutes more. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper.

Place half of the leek mixture into a food processor with peas, mint, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pulse until a chunky, soft mixture forms. You want to be able to see texture in the peas, not create a puree.

For the toast, there are two delicious options: either toast in the toaster and add a thin spread of mayonnaise to each and top with pea mixture and remaining leeks.

OR! The bonus, extra decadent option:

Fry the toast. Yep, fry it. Add another generous drizzle of olive oil to the pan, over medium high heat and place the bread in the pan – 2 slices at a time – until golden on each side. Then top with peas and remaining leeks.

Note about jalapeños: the heat level varies significantly in jalepenos. Some have real heat, others are more like bell peppers. So I always take a little nibble before I cook with them. If the flesh is truly spicy, you can seed it and use less, to your taste. If the flesh isn’t spicy, keep the seeds…and use more. I like a bit of a kick with this recipe. 

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It feels like SUMMER. In MAY.

I am a new human. It also probably helps that I am halfway into the Workout to Conquer Cancer, so I’ve been on a two week long workout streak! All those endorphins are good for the soul.

With the arrival of warm sunny weather, it’s only natural to want to get outside and move your body. It’s a great time of year to ease back into fitness and shift more effort into your wellness goals so you can feel really good.

I’m honoured to once again be an ambassador for Workout to Conquer Cancer again where every day during the month of May I dedicate some time to move my body in support of the BC Cancer Foundation. When I took the challenge last year, I was not in workout mode but the challenge helped me make exercise a habit that I have stuck with ever since!

We all know it’s important to eat a healthy diet, but regular exercise makes good nutrition even more important. However, with all of the sport-focused products out there, know that for the average person doing light to moderate exercise (that’s me!), additional meals or supplements probably aren’t necessary. In fact, if you’re eating balanced meals with nourishing whole foods regularly, you are probably already meeting your workout nutrition needs.

So while I love a potion and powder as much as the next gal, the foundation of good fitness nutrition is ensuring your everyday meals are supporting your wellbeing.

Need a little more detail?

You’ve got it…here are ten tips for acing nutrition while you work(out)!
  1.  Think quality over quantity
  • ​Single ingredient, whole foods are always the best choice. Hyper-processed snack foods with refined flours and sugar will leave you fatigued and sore.
  • Eat for energy with nutrient-dense plant foods such as nuts/nut butters, legumes, dates, fruits and vegetables at each meal.
  • These foods provide the nutrients your body needs for growth and repair, without excess energy that you probably don’t need if you have a sedentary job and do 2-4 moderate workouts a week.
  1. Pre-workout fuel
  • Food fuels movement so eating a light meal or snack prior to working out can be beneficial. If your last meal was 2 hours away, just go for it. If 3-4 hours ago, have something quickly digested. Think easily digested carbs without too much fat or fibre. A banana with a tablespoon of peanut butter is great 1 hour pre-workout, and a glass of oat milk immediately before a workout will give you what you need without weighing you down.
  • Want an easy to digest, hydrating smoothie for a pre-workout meal? I’ve got just the thing.
  1. What to eat in-workout
  • The average person doing a light or moderate workout for less than an hour doesn’t need anything other than water.
  • For longer fitness sessions or strenuous activity, try natural sports drinks/gels – no neon blue drinks please! When I ran longer distances, I actually ate a date every half hour which I preferred to gels but not everyone likes having to chew during a run.
  • ​​​For outdoor adventures, always pack snacks if you might be out longer than an hour. Stash plenty of water plus some nutrient dense snacks in your pack like unsweetened trail mixes, dates, and if you’re into it, a simple wrap with hummus and veggies (packed with ice) is another great choice. I’ve also got a super yummy pumpkin pie energy ball that makes a great trail snack.
  1.  Eating for recovery
  • A post-workout snack or meal replaces carbohydrate stores and electrolytes lost during exercise (e.g. from using our muscles and sweating) so you want some high quality carbs like quinoa, sprouted grain toast or fruit.
  • Protein is needed to repair muscles, prevent soreness and replenish glycogen stores; think tofu, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds.
  • If you are going to eat a balanced (grains-veg-protein-fat) meal within about an hour post-workout…that is all you need! So if you workout pre-lunch or dinner, no extra snacks necessary.
  • Otherwise, an easy snack is some raw almonds and a small apple. You could also do a smoothie with half a banana, 1 cup of unsweetened soy milk, a bit of cocoa (anti-inflammatory!), some hemp seeds and a small handful of raspberries.
  1.  Do I need a protein shake?
  • It’s convenient, but for most average folks, you don’t need it.
  • ​​While adequate protein is important for muscle health and healing/recovery, our standard North American diet provides plenty of protein (even for us veg lovers!).
  • If you’re not going to eat a meal for a while, a simple snack that has a bit of protein + carbohydrates such the options above, or a piece of sprouted grain bread with some nut butter, is a great option post-workout for just a little boost of protein (about an egg’s worth).
  • If you’re looking to increase significant muscle mass, a powder that has 20-25 grams of balanced amino acids is a convenient way to get extra protein in.
  1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
  • For the majority of people, water on its own is sufficient during a work out. Drink 1-2 cups of water about an hour before your workout to make sure you’re starting out hydrated and continue sipping throughout and after. You may need more fluid based on how much you’re sweating.
  • If you’re doing longer workouts or spending time out in the hot sun and getting dripping sweaty, consider an electrolyte powder to add to your water instead of drinking super artificial sports drinks. Wondering if you need one? If you get crampy muscles, or your skin routinely has salt on it post-session, you do!
  1. Sore joints? Go anti-inflammatory
  • I am an on-again, off-again jogger. Usually when I get going, my knees get angry with me so I really up my turmeric intake. Curcumin, the main active in turmeric, is a great anti-inflammatory. Try and consume 1 teaspoon a day in golden mylk, smoothies and curries.
  • Anti-inflammatory foods like olive oil, berries, green veggies, matcha, whole grains, nuts and seeds form the basis of an anti-inflammatory diet that can help with the aches and pains that might follow moderate exercise.
  • ​Keep your hydration status up to lubricate your joints.
  1.  Understanding carbs + protein
  • Carbs help to replenish glycogen that is a fuel source for our muscles. If you want to bounce back strong at your next workout, that glycogen is your friend, even if you have weight loss intentions.
  • After a sweat session, our glycogen stores are usually tapped out so having a meal of good quality whole food carbohydrates can replenish our losses. Think whole grains like quinoa, millet, legumes, sweet potatoes.
  • Protein is not just for muscle repair but supporting our immune system. If your workouts aren’t strenuous, you don’t need additional protein but if you start training for a marathon or are looking to build significant muscle mass, you’ll need to talk to a dietitian to get your ratios right.
  1.  Does the type of exercise matter for nutrition?
  • The type of exercise, duration of time and level of intensity can influence our nutritional needs.
    *   ​Cardio – aerobic, jogging/running, cycling – getting that heart rate up
    *   Strength – weight training
    *   Endurance – long distance running, hiking or biking
  • If you are in full on training, talk to a dietitian about getting your nutrition right. For the rest of us (jogging 5 k, easy weight lifting or doing a class), it’s all good.
  1. What about fibre?
  • Fibre is critical for keeping your gut running smoothly and fighting inflammation. However, many of us won’t tolerate too much fibre close to a workout; if that’s you, stick to liquid nutrition with easily digestible carbs like a peanut butter and banana smoothie pre-workout.

So much of the writing around fitness nutrition is around training for a marathon or fitness event…but it doesn’t really apply to us who are just out there to feel good and be healthy! So I wanted to write some nutrition tips for the rest of us because eating well will help you feel your absolute best.

A big thank you to my intern, Marilee Pumple, for her help in putting this post together!
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Sometimes, I find myself buying something and think to myself, I really could make this at home.

This is one of those recipes.

I’ve been snacking on these chocolate barks from a company I love called Prana but I do find them a bit sweet. So I thought I could give it a go and tailor them to my tastes.

Why don’t we all make our own chocolate barks?? It’s soooo easy. It takes 15 minutes, start to finish. The result is a lower sugar treat, packed with your favourite ingredients, that you can enjoy without the sugar rush. If you use raw cacao, you are also getting a decent dose of anti-inflammatory phytochemicals too!

Feel free to experiment with your favourite fruit and nut combinations…you could try pistachio, ginger and rose petals or golden berries, dried bananas and walnuts!

If you make this, be sure to tag me in your experiments on Instagram!

Tart Cherry, Hemp and Cashew Bark Gluten Free, Vegetarian, Vegan

3/4 cup (175ml) coconut oil (virgin or naturally refined)
1/2 cup (125ml) cocoa powder or raw cacao powder
3 tablespoons (45ml) pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon (5ml) pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup (60ml) hemp hearts
Tiny pinch of salt

1/4 cup (60ml) dried tart cherries
2 tablespoons (30ml) minced uncrystallized dried ginger (Ginger People and Buderims are great)
1/4 cup (60ml) raw cashews
1/4 cup (60ml) raw pumpkin seeds

Line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper. Gather and measure all of your ingredients before starting the recipe as it comes together quickly!

In a double boiler, or a small heavy bottomed pot over the lowest heat setting you have (I have a melt setting on my stove so that is what I used), melt coconut oil until liquid.

Whisk in cocoa, maple syrup, vanilla, hemp and salt until smooth.

Add half of the fruit and nuts and stir in. Pour onto cookie sheet and top with remaining fruit and nuts.

Toss the cookie sheet into the freezer for ten minutes and then break into pieces. Store bark in a container in the fridge or freezer.

Note: Because this recipe uses coconut oil, the bark will melt quickly. Keep cold before eating!

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This month’s playlist is all about getting your body moving…because once again, I’m participating in the Workout to Conquer Cancer.

So as the weather heats up, get your body moving because it just feels good. Because it’s good for your body…and your mind. Not because it’s ‘swimsuit season’ because that’s a bunch of BS.

xo,
D

Photo by Joshua Jordan on Unsplash

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Well, it’s that time of year again.

It’s warmer. Layers are shed.

We feel happier, more energetic and ready to start having some fun.

…and then a bunch of people try to tell us how inadequate we are and how we need to lose a bunch of weight by the end of the month. Preferably, by spending money on whatever they’re selling.

F$&K them. Let’s opt out. Together.

You are NOT your food choices. Nor your dress size.

It may feel insincere for a dietitian to talk about this kind of stuff. Like I’ve got all my own sh%! together, so how would I know? Except that I do know. I know that anxious tingle that comes before the start of a new diet and fitness plan. Filled with hope. Excited to reveal the ‘new you’ that you’ve always wanted. Worried about sticking it out. And the almost inevitable sense of failure if that wagon doesn’t carry you across the finish line.

There was a time in my life when I did not love my body, while I acknowledge that I have spent my entire life within a ‘socially acceptable’ weight range. But the younger me saw only imperfection. The too big nose. The thick calve/ankle combo. The bum/thigh area that make it a bit trickier to find jeans that fit.

It took time me a lot of time to unravel that conditioning. To get to the place where I truly love my body. Where I respect it, and treat it accordingly.

To be honest though, loving my body doesn’t always mean I like everything about it 24/7. I’m getting older and I am not a fan of those wrinkles beginning to creep in. I wish I didn’t look so tired all the time but really, I’ve been tired for about 8 years straight (#parenthood).

But I still 100% love my body…and am grateful for the fact that it has carried two healthy children. That it keeps me moving through this crazy life and it keeps getting stronger everyday.

I’m still a work in progress. But I will no longer allow my body shape to keep me from wearing what I want or living the life that I want. My body shape, once a daily focus, is now rarely on my mind. And that feels a lot like freedom.

I wanted to share what I’ve learned on my journey with you here…take what resonates, discard what doesn’t.

How to begin to divorce your food choices from your self worth
  1. Let your body show you what it can do, for the sake of movement alone
    Most of us walk around like our bodies are mere vessels for our brains. I’ve found the practice of coming back into my physical body pretty transformative. About a year ago, I dipped back into fitness. All of my adult life, I have been an on again, off again exerciser. Looking back, one of the reasons I think this was the case is that I was always striving towards a regimented goal. I wouldn’t just work out…I would work out everyday so I could lose weight. Or, I would train for a race because I was ‘too unhealthy’. There would be calendars, schedules and targets.And then last year, I did something radical (for me): I started working out for the sake of movement. No goal. No ‘plan’. I just tried to workout everyday that I could. I woke up, and looked for a way to fit in movement. No go? I tried again tomorrow. Every day it was an intention, without absolutes. When I had a window, I did whatever I was into: a walk, some yoga at home, or a fitness class.

    I know it’s not rocket science, but for me it was transformative. I started exercising just for fun. To feel free, to take time for myself. And a year later, I’m still doing it.

    Always wondered what rock climbing was like? Take a class? Love the mountains? Go for a hike. Need to chill? Do some internet yoga. Just move.

  2. Give yourself permission to eat. Really.
    Everyone’s relationship to food is different. If you have struggled with disordered eating in the past – or now – I really encourage you to seek support for your journey. As a young adult, I certainly waded through my own tortured relationship with food. Of course, it wasn’t really about the food. It never is. It was every ounce of meaning I projected onto food. Whether I was ‘being good’. Or ‘indulging’. I was either very regimented or very unregimented, to the point where I ended up feeling like garbage. I lacked confidence in my abilities and my value…and I used my body as a barometer for my self worth.In my 20’s, I began shedding this mindset in stages. First, I had to let myself eat. And for me, that ended up being a lot of less healthful choices. I had to get all of that pent up restriction out of my brain until all those foods that I had put on a pedestal became just food. Foods that I actually enjoyed a whole lot less than I thought I did. And I realized that nothing in my life changed – not my studies, my friendships or my enjoyment of life –  because I had gained a bit of weight.

    I was ready to start connecting food to how I feel. And to eat what I really wanted. Sometimes, I really wanted to celebrate and I did so with cheesecake and champagne. Sometimes, I really craved salad. These meals might even happen in the same day.

    What would it feel like to eat what you truly want? Dip your toe in…the water’s fine.
  3. Embrace mindfulness in eating
    Mindfulness is a remarkable tool for changing your relationship to food. For example, I have been known to take down a whole bag of potato chips in a single sitting. This usually happened in front of the TV or whilst drinking wine with friends. Desiree and her chips…When you’re distracted, the act of eating becomes rhythmic, your brain is otherwise occupied so it can’t keep tabs on the fact you’re eating. In fact, you’re not even enjoying all that salty goodness because you’re not paying attention.

    One of the simplest ways to experiment with mindful eating is to practice eating without distraction. So no TV, no laptop, no smart phone. In the age of PVRs and Netflix, you don’t even have to miss your show! It’s a win-win. When you decide that you want to eat, remove yourself from distraction and eat. Look at your food. Really taste it. Chew it well. You will enjoy it so much more. Be so much more satisfied by the act of eating – and the flavours of the food itself.

    Another way to tap into mindfulness is to ask yourself a question before you eat: why am I eating? The answer might not be because you are hungry. It might be ‘it’s lunchtime.’ Or, ‘I’m bored.’ Or, ‘It’s a celebration?’

    Whatever the answer is, just notice.

    Because that is the key to mindfulness….it is awareness, without judgement. No good, no bad….it just is.

    A final exercise I find really transformative is to note how food makes you feel. Sometimes, ice cream makes me feel really happy. Sometimes, it makes me feel sluggish. Eating a salad can feel like the best thing around. But when you notice how food makes you feel both while you are eating it, and after you’ve eaten it, it can guide your choices to make you a more intuitive eater.

  4. Start eating more plant foods
    Of course I think this is a good idea… I’m a plant-based RD. But there are a bunch of other reasons that plant foods can help fortify you against diet culture.The first, is that nutrient-dense plant foods support a healthier body and mind. If you are well nourished, you feel better a whole lot better. When you feel good, you make more clear-headed choices that lead to more feeling good. Secondly, because plant foods are generally high in fibre and water, they help you tap into your natural appetite regulating systems within your body so you can eat to feel pleasantly full. Most hyper-processed foods hijack your appetite regulation so you eat way more than you intended…and still feel dissatisfied.

    And finally, when you’re well nourished, your body can handle occasional indulgences and still feel really good. Because feeling good is the whole point.

If you’re looking to transform your relationship with food, and build a solid nutritional foundation for a healthier body and mind, why not take my (totally free) five week Elevate Challenge

Photo Credit: Alyssa Dawson Photography

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This is such a mom dinner. And a couple of months ago, I probably wouldn’t have put it on the blog, but you guys were so stoked for my five minute breakfast I realized that you – like me – sometimes need a dead simple, tasty meal that isn’t calling for take out. It comes together in thirty minutes flat – by the time the cauliflower is roasted, the rest of it is done.

This meal was born of wanting to figure out a dinner that my family would eat out of the random contents of my fridge so I didn’t have to go to the grocery store. I honestly didn’t think it would fly but they devoured it. I did too!! Why? Because it tasted like a deconstructed cauliflower pizza.

You see, I had this leftover jar of pizza sauce in my fridge….yep, I’m going there…this recipe has jarred sauce in it, because #reallife. This dinner is all about a bunch of big flavours. It’s a salty, kind of addictive way to get your veggies in. Need less salt? Give your olives and artichokes a rinse before you use them. This dinner has all of the protein of a meat-based meal and plenty of veggies. So it’s pretty much perfect.

A quick note about pizza sauce…they aren’t all created equally. I used Rao’s sauce (not sponsored!), which I know is a bit pricey, but it hits all those spice notes right without being so tomato-y. As I was developing this recipe, I also tried Eden Organic which I liked but my hubs found it a bit intense on the tomato-scale. You might be better off using a half of a jar of your favourite jarred pasta sauce if you don’t have a nice pizza sauce option!

Roasted Cauliflower with Saucy Veggies SErves 4

Gluten Free (with Subs), Vegetarian, Vegan

1 medium head of cauliflower, cut into smallish florets
4 good quality vegetarian Italian sausages (I used Gusta), sliced into 1 cm (1/2 inch) slices
1-370ml (12.5oz) jar of your favourite pizza/pasta sauce (I used Rao’s pizza sauce)
1/2 cup (125ml) Kalamata olives
1/2 cup (125ml) marinated artichoke hearts, patted dry
3 big handfuls of baby spinach (about half a small clamshell’s worth)
Plenty of Extra Virgin Olive oil for cooking
Freshly squeezed lemon juice and dried chile flakes for serving

Get that cauliflower roasting right away: preheat the oven to 450.

Place florets on a rimmed cookie sheet, drizzle generously with olive oil (2-3 tbsp) and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes, flipping cauli halfway through cooking time if you want a nice even browning.

Meanwhile, heat another good drizzle of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and fry sausages until golden brown on each side, about 4 minutes a side.

Turn heat down to low and add pizza sauce, olives, artichokes and spinach and stir occasionally while cauliflower cooks.

To serve, divide pizza sauce veggies between plates and top with cauliflower. Squeeze a bit of lemon over the dish and sprinkle chile flakes to taste.

Gluten Free Option: Substitute 2-398ml (14oz) cans of chickpeas for sausage

Make it go farther: if you serve this with some rice or quinoa, it will easily feed six!

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