How You Stay Healthy in a Life Crisis

sad face2A longtime GSG reader came to my 12 Steps to Whole Foods class recently. (Which I’m teaching again on June 6. In Orem, Utah.) She’s just been hit with a double whammy—literally the two biggest life stressors there are, all at once. An unfaithful spouse and consequent divorce…and loss of a full-term baby.

She’s depressed, devastated—and those around her have no idea what to say. Or how to support. Her children are reeling, too.

My background as a therapist (my advanced degree is in social work) merges with my nutrition background, which merge with my own similar challenges in life. That explains my next comments…..

She asked me how I survived my own crisis related to losses much like hers. I told her, “The main thing is, I never let go of my nutrition, and some basic self-care. Sure, take care of the kids, but put the oxygen mask on yourself first! Yoga is non-negotiable. Ditto running. So is a daily quart of green smoothie, and no free-fall into junk food hell. Show up at social events. Even if you’re not feeling it…just go anyway. You’ll get through it, and be happy again—and those things will help. Depression lies to you and tells you it’s permanent. There IS happiness on the other side of this, and I found it, and so will you. It’s just hard to visualize it right now.”

self careI checked out with her if she’s doing X, Y, and Z, to make sure she’s functional instead of spiraling downward, and I learned she’s let go of some important self-care that will get her through. I asked her if, before she went to bed that night, would she just text me that she made a list of the things she’d LIKE to be doing, if she weren’t so depressed.

She did so, that night. It’s a starter step.

I’ve been through those biggest life stressors—divorce, and loss of a child. (Though mine were just several miscarriages—not loss of a full term baby. It’s also important to note I wasn’t married to a cheater, and my divorce was my choice. Thus, both of her losses dwarf my own, not that anyone wants to compare. Hard to imagine hers as worse, since both were devastating for me. My heart is hurting, for this GreenSmoothieGirl friend.)

I hope you’ll take note of this, if you’re suffering, too. I’ve climbed out of some of the hardest things people go through, things I’ve talked about on this blog, and things I haven’t. The mighty little green smoothie has everything to do with HOW.

love yourselfI hope when life hits you hard—as it does, now and then—that you tend to these important things:

  1. Your self-care is more important now than ever.
  2. Always get your endorphins—break a sweat every day, however that looks for you.
  3. Do yoga. Period. I mean it. You’re literally wringing toxins out of your nervous system.
  4. Pray, or meditate, or both.
  5. Drink a quart of green smoothie a day—more greens, less fruit.
  6. Avoid sugar, alcohol, caffeine, and other things that exacerbate depression.
  7. Find things to be grateful for, and turn your thoughts to those, every day.

If you’re in a really tough place, right now, please make a list of this kind of coping, rebuilding, and self-love stuff you know you need to be doing. Tape it to your mirror and don’t take it down until you’re doing all of it.

LOVE to you. I’m praying for you.

College students going green and getting healthy!

ema blog1
Robyn with daughter Emma and friend Aaron at Rex Lee Race a Cure

I ran a 10K last Saturday with my daughter, Emma, and her friend Aaron, both former high school track stars. It was the Rex Lee race for a cure for cancer, a cold but sunny day here in Utah.

Cancer drug companies seem to have focused in on sponsoring these runs, to raise money for drug research. This is, of course, a great idea if you believe that injecting more chemicals into cancer patients will at some point result in a “cure.”

(The definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The idea that toxic chemicals and burning rays could “cure” cancer has been an epic failure since it was introduced well over 50 years ago. Medicine will show you results that sound much more promising than that, with specific treatments and specific cancers. But overall, we have not “cured” anything even if we sometimes can burn back tumor growths temporarily, with a huge cost to overall quality of life in the process. And Medicine is doing nothing to strengthen the immune system and the overall organism that caused the cancer in the first place.)

But I digress. I’m really proud of Emma. She came home from working for 7 months in Europe inspired by their ways. She bought a CSA share, with her own money, in her little town of Cedar City where she goes to college. She goes grocery shopping with her bicycle that has a basket on it. She hangs her laundry to dry rather than use the energy of a dryer.

Emma and Aaron with hot pink smoothie
Emma and Aaron with hot pink smoothie

She saw a guy at the race drinking a green smoothie, and she yelled, “Hey! Good job, you! Look, this is my mom, the Green Smoothie Girl!” (Ugh.)

She talks often about how being a vegetarian leaves a small carbon footprint. She points out ways we could be more energy efficient. She’s committed to her life not being one of massive consumption. I am really proud of her. She’s highly aware, works for a nonprofit humanitarian agency as a volunteer, is paying for her own trip to Thailand when this semester is over, to do humanitarian work for the summer. If she is indicative of her generation, there’s a lot of hope that things will change for the better.

And according to her race results, she ran a 6:30 minute mile. (Mine says I ran a 7:37 minute mile. Clearly something was wrong, because we don’t run that fast.) But we were powered by our electrolyte-rich Hot Pink Smoothies (which you get for free signing up for the GreenSmoothieGirl.com newsletter). Delicious. Aaron is the typical college guy who never eats anything healthy, and even he liked it!

 

Six Reasons I Hate Calorie Counting and Don’t Do It

shutterstock_81459505 (Small)When I changed my diet to eating whole, plant-based foods, I said goodbye to calorie counting forever. By eating 60-80% raw, 95% whole, plant-based foods, I don’t need to count calories. I don’t think it’s a complete waste, my years of obsession with calories when I was young. Because it’s helpful to know what the foods are, that are very high in food energy but low in nutrition.

In all fairness, I’ll say that to get obesity under control, you could do WORSE than counting and restricting calories, for a period of time. It’s certainly better than doing nothing.

However, counting calories as a long-term approach to health doesn’t work. Here’s why:

  1. It’s unsustainable. Nobody does it long-term. Because it’s boring, tedious, and restrictive. It also leads to an unhealthy way of looking at food, creating fear through measurement.
  1. It has a tendency to cause you to eat packaged foods, which are almost always processed. Those are the foods that have calories marked on them. It’s a head game, though. They’re packaging small portions, or using fake foods to lower calories or fat. In fact, this can be self-defeating. Because the lowest calorie, highest-nutrition foods don’t come in packages at all.
  1. You can’t nail down how many calories you actually need, and software predictions of how many you need are inaccurate. Some days it’s many hundreds of calories higher than other days, depending on how many hours you were awake, or how much physical activity you did. I believe assigning a rigid number to any given day leads calorie-counters to feel shame, which affects their natural enjoyment for food and some their decision-making freedom.

What if your calorie-counting software says you can have only 1600 calories, so you TRY for that number. But unbeknownst to your software, you actually had a high caloric-needs day and THAT’S why you were so hungry and thus you “screwed up” and ate “too much?”

  1. Calorie counts on charts are inaccurate. A variety of factors affect how many calories are in any given piece of food, and there’s much you don’t know about the supply chain and the ingredients. You don’t know how much your chicken breast weighs. And if you’re actually WEIGHING it, well, my Reason #1 applies, above.

(Sometimes we have to ask ourselves if the insanities of the modern age just breed more insanities. Can you imagine cavemen counting calories? The whole outrage is simply an outgrowth of the processed food diet. If we eliminate processed food, we don’t have to invent silly counting programs.)

  1. “A calorie is a calorie is a calorie” is a lie! The Oxford-Cornell China Project is the biggest nutrition study in history. Studying 6,500 people in 65 counties of China, the researchers learned that plant eaters can eat 200 calories a day more than meat eaters, and stay thin!

high fiber foodsIt turns out, the body doesn’t even absorb all of the calories in foods high in fiber. That’s your greens, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. (The ones I’ve been teaching you to eat more of!) If your friend ate 500 calories less than you, but it was Skittles and a white-bread ham sandwich, but you actually ate more calories in that meal, but it was whole, raw, plant foods, you’re still the winner. Not only in your overall health, aging, and energy—but very possibly in weight maintenance as well!

  1. Counting calories creates a bunny trail, potentially keeping you ironically further from good health. People do programs like Weight Watchers, where junk food is totally endorsed, and all food is equal, but is just assigned points. I’d rather have you focus on eliminating or minimizing refined sugars, and not eating foods containing neurotoxins, and absolutely minimizing refined salt in the diet. All of these have a dramatic, documented effect on weight.

My conclusion? Profit industries won’t support this way of thinking:

But I’d rather maximize nutrient dense foods. Greens, vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. I’d rather avoiding processed and animal foods. This matters far more than counting calories.

Diet vs. Exercise

Diet versus Exercise for weight lossDear GreenSmoothieGirl: I know that a great diet coupled with lots of exercise is the healthiest approach for all of us. Having said this, I just listened to a guy on the radio say he is a gym rat and is in excellent physical shape for his age (approaching 50,) but he’s a junk food king. Which is worse: Great diet, little or no exercise, OR so-so diet, but great cardio and muscle workouts. Happy Mother’s Day! –Patti

Answer:  It’s a funny question, and the answer may not even be helpful to anyone, but it will entertain me to answer it! Obviously it’s a terrible idea to have a bad diet OR live a sedentary lifestyle. But your guess about what I’m going to say is right: I think diet is even more important.

80-20-ruleWe do it all day long, eat food. It is so foundational. It’s the gas in the gas tank. When it’s hybridized, genetically modified, stripped of fiber and nutrition, or even made of nothing but chemicals (i.e. soda), your body doesn’t even have good fuel to work with, in a cardio or weight workout. Fuel is what builds every cell. With your weight, food is 80% and exercise is 20%. While I think both are critically important, nutrient density in your diet is probably the #1 most important issue for your health, and your emotional well-being. Stress management / attitude / ability to metabolize and move forward after negative events is the #2 most important factor affecting your overall health. Exercise is likely #3!

 

 

15 Ways I Optimize Health and Energy Every Day—Besides Good Food! (part 3 of 4)

physical touch6. GET REGULAR PHYSICAL TOUCH.

Sex is an important part of a healthy life, and people with good, monogamous sexual relationships are more likely to have good emotional and physical health. But part of the reason why is due to the fact that their need for physical touch is being met.

Everyone has read about how babies and young children need touch almost as much as they need food and water. It is actually critical to our survival. Babies in orphanages who are never touched wither away, do not develop normally, and sometimes die or have severe personality disorders.

One way that I have met this need since becoming single 5 years ago, is with massage. (That’s right, I’m not afraid to admit it. When I’m not in an intimate relationship, I PAY for appropriate physical touch! It accomplishes some of the same benefits.)

My daughters aren’t huggers, but luckily, my sons are. I constantly hug and love on my boys. And, a little, on my girls, when they let me. Intimacy, for women, is accomplished far more through touch, than through sexual release. Men who figure this out early have stronger marriages.

Give and Serve7. GIVE AND SERVE EVERY DAY.

To people who least expect it. When no one is looking. To people who don’t deserve it from you. And especially people who do! Expect nothing in return. Little is more satisfying and more conducive to your OWN good health, than service. Serve when it’s inconvenient, when you don’t feel like it, when you’re tired. Not always—it’s okay to take care of you!—but sometimes.

Smile and wave at someone who flips you off, when you’re driving. Love better, love more, find new ways to love. Observe the ways your family and friends want to be loved, and meet them there–rather than giving love your own preferred way. Spend a whole day in service. Find a janitor or a server or a bus driver and tell them how much you appreciate their work.

Acknowledge your innate selfishness. (Me, too.) And then feel the full measure of your humanity—what differentiates us from animals—when you do the right thing for someone else even though you had 20 pressing things on your to-do list and the personal sacrifice is significant.

sweat9. BREAK A SWEAT EVERY DAY.

Maybe you’re like me and it doesn’t feel like a workout unless you’ve done it for 60 minutes. Or maybe you spend only 20 minutes in high-intensity workout like my very fit friend Dr. Jared Nielsen. Whatever method you wish! As the actor Matthew McConaghey said, whom I always quote, “break a sweat every day!”

Take one or two days off, per week, but not more. Do something you like, at least some of the time. (I admit, I put my time in, running, which I don’t particularly enjoy, and on the boring stationery bike in hotel gyms. That’s what books, and iPods, are for! But I also do things I love, like cycling and tennis and Zumba.)

The body wants to sweat, it wants to move, it wants to be outdoors. Breaking a sweat is key to getting on top of mood disorders. Sex and exercise yield the best endorphins—and even single people can get those endorphins with the latter activity, anytime!

daylight-benefits10. GET IN THE SUN.

There is no substitute. Take your Vitamin D3 in the winter, great idea—but we still need sunshine. Human beings were used to getting regular sunshine until the past couple of generations. With the shift away from an agricultural society, populations, in general,  now spend the majority of their time indoors.

Turns out, it is a misconception that people should stay out of the sun and/or slather themselves with sunscreen. In fact, the #1 correlate for cancer risk is how far from the Equator you are! The further away, the less sun, the higher the cancer risk. High Vitamin D levels actually correlate to low cancer risk.

Lack of sunshine is also a perfect recipe for depression. In the last two decades, a diagnosis of “Seasonal Affective Disorder” is practically an epidemic. That’s because people who live far from the Equator, with long, overcast winters, are living in conditions that few humans ever have—totally indoors. Our biology demands sunshine and everything that comes with it—hands in the black dirt, grounding us, breathing clean air, and feeling the warm sun on our skin. Don’t wash that Vitamin D off when you come inside. It takes hours for it to internalize, as hormone, and work with calcium to build bone.

Do you work at a desk? Read this!

desk workMe, too. I work at a computer most of the time, sometimes for 12 hours a day. This is on my mind, because I spent all of August at home. I scheduled a 7-week hiatus from my usual travel schedule, in fact.

I almost went crazy. I actually love to write, don’t get me wrong. But I tasked myself with writing an entire book in a month or so. That’s intense. How to Eat Right In The Real World comes out Jan. 1. And starting in September, I had a lot of travel and other work tasks. So I figured I better buckle down and knock the draft out.

I chained myself to the computer for 7 weeks.

And at the end of July, I broke my pinkie toe. Down in the joint, which takes a long time to heal. Playing a lot of tennis, and taking my ball machine over to the courts to hit, would break up my day. That was the plan to get through August. Till my being unable to wear a SHOE for six weeks derailed that.

I did write 110 pages of my book by Aug. 31, which is great. But sometimes I would feel the compression in my back, from too many hours at a desk. Thankfully, and I’ll tell you why in a minute, I don’t have actual back pain, like I did for many years of my life, particularly in my cervical vertebrae. When I was 5 years old, I was in a car accident with a hit-and-run drunk driver. (I was not wearing a seatbelt. Was anyone, in the 1970’s?)

I want to talk about two major issues, for those of us who work at a computer fulltime, and what has helped a lot for me, that I hope helps you!

eye strainEye strain!

You don’t have to take a nap to get some “shut eye.” Research on eye health, and people who work at monitors, shows that all you have to do, to keep your eyes healthy, is take breaks. Even two minutes of keeping your eyes shut, is really helpful. Ten minutes are even better! While you’re talking on the phone, while you’re at work, get in the habit of SHUTTING YOUR EYES. Do it while you’re in the shower, too. (Maybe don’t do it while you’re driving your car or cooking at the stove.)

Back strain!

Schedule breaks in your day. Just use your meals, workout, errands, meetings, or conference calls as your breaks in computer work so you don’t work more than 60-90 minutes at a time. While I was working 12-hour days writing this book, I didn’t go to the gym first thing in the morning, which would be my normal preference. (That way I get it done early!) Instead, I worked a couple of hours when I got up at 7 am, and then went to the gym as one of my breaks. (Did yoga and wore flip-flops on the Arc Trainer or in a spin class, since running and tennis were out.)  This way I am not working for 4 or more hours at a time. Research shows 4 straight hours of the same task does not yield 4 hours of productivity. Nowhere close, in fact.

ergonomicsI got through college with an “A” GPA by utilizing this principle. My strategy was to start classes at 8 a.m., and because I don’t have the attention span for 6-hour study sessions (does anyone?), I scheduled 90 minutes of study between classes. It kept me on campus, walking from class to a study area re-energizing me. And it forced me to use those 1-2 hour breaks between classes for studying. Some of my college friends scheduled 4 classes in a row, and then they’d go home exhausted. They’d go home and crash, killing hours of productivity. Several of them dropped out or got terrible grades and had to repeat classes.

The research says to position your screen straight ahead, arm’s length away, avoid glare from windows or bright lights, and use good posture when you’re sitting. Use the “visor test” to see if the lighting in your workspace is a problem. Make a “visor” out of your hands, and if your eyes feel better, the lighting should be changed.

Do yoga!

I cannot overemphasize this. I have a completely different body now than I did when I was 20, because now I’m limber thanks to regular yoga. Being limber isn’t just about tantric sex, showing off, or avoiding injuries, which are associations many people make with it.

It actually affects your entire body’s health, and your emotional health too. I have often said that YOGA is how I survived my divorce. It also helps me survive the sometimes epic amount of responsibility and stress in my life. Truly almost more than anything (though my great diet, and essential oils are huge, too).

yogaYoga isn’t just for being bendy. It trains you to breathe appropriately, to be mindful of the connections between emotions, breath, and physical sensation, and overall helps a person become more grounded, relaxed, and present in the moment.

You may say that you don’t have time to drive to a yoga studio and do 60 minutes. Sometimes I don’t either. Especially when I’m on the road. But I do yoga in airports and in my hotel room. In the airport, I try to find a place behind something, where everyone can’t watch. (But mostly, I just don’t even care if they do. Pretty sure this embarrasses the employee or friend I’m traveling with, sometimes.)

Often I get out of my seat on the plane, go to that place in the middle of the plane (or first class, if I am lucky enough to get an upgrade), where the bathrooms and drink-prep station are, and do a bunch of yoga where no one can see, except occasionally a flight attendant. It improves my energy and is always a good use of 5-10 minutes.

Side stretches, one arm over my head, back bends, forward folds, holding one foot behind you with both hands, are pretty unobtrusive and easy to do in a small space.

But maybe most importantly, if you work at a desk:

standing-deskWhen you take a phone call, GET UP OUT OF YOUR CHAIR. This takes some mental training, for a while, to remember to do this. If I take a phone call, I do it STANDING. Because I work at home, if the weather’s nice, I take my phone calls outside. I even go out there if I see I have several text messages to answer. Then I’m getting Vitamin D, AND I’m doing yoga stretches, while I’m doing work I have to do anyway. Multi-tasking at its finest. That’s three things you’re accomplishing with one phone call. And two of those are good for your health!

Probably the pose I spend the most time in, when I’m on the phone, is the forward fold. You’re standing upright (with your feet shoulder width apart, or sometimes I do it in a straddle). Bend forward until your head is upside down and hands are as flat on the floor as possible. Being upside down briefly is really good for blood and lymph flow, and resting and decompressing your spine.

I feel SO much better if I just take a few minutes to bend and stretch, move my muscles, a few times a day. This is one of the ways you avoid using stimulants, falling asleep at your desk, and hating your day.

So remember, to keep your spine limber, your brain sharp, and your eyes rested, anytime you are not doing a task that involves looking at your screen or typing, GET OUT OF YOUR CHAIR.

Stand to take your phone calls. Walk around. Do yoga. And keep your eyes closed for a few minutes.

These are really simple ideas. But they can truly make an enormous difference in your health. And they cost you literally nothing. (chiropractor care, back surgery, and eye surgery aren’t as free.) I hope you will start making them new habits!