Is Your Sunscreen Killing Coral Reefs?

woman in bikini applying sun block cream on bodyOn a recent escape from New York City’s wintry mix, I found myself struggling to find a sunscreen that I could feel good about. I try very hard not to use products with chemicals, especially in large quantities, but I am fair-skinned with a family history of skin cancer so SPF 45+ is a health must. When in the sun, I apply it liberally and frequently. I am normally very anti-checked luggage on flights but on this recent trip to Jamaica I went so far as to check my bag just so I could bring natural sunscreen that I thought I would not be able to find on the island.

At some point on the trip, friends and I were chatting with a guide from the area and one friend inquired about snorkeling. We learned that, while Jamaica once had corral teeming with wild life, the coral was now virtually extinct. Our guide informed us that part of the reason the coral may have been destroyed was because of the sunscreen that tourists wear. [1]

Cue the guilt. I had tried desperately to find sunscreen that was ‘natural’ and according to the label on the Nature’s Gate sunscreen I ultimately purchased, it was, “Free of Oxybenzone, Parabens, Phthalates, Fragrance, Animal Derived Ingredients and never tested on animals.” I just assumed that this meant that it was safe for the environment. My friends, I was wrong. The main culprits that can contribute to reef erosion, according to the 2008 Danovaro study, are Oxybenzone (benzophenone-3), Butylparaben, Octinoxate, and 4-methylbenzylidene camphor. The first ingredient in my ‘healthy’ sunscreen was Octinoxate.

It seems that in order to live our values and follow through on a commitment to protect our bodies and the environment from harmful chemicals, we must do our own research. When it comes to sunscreen, the keywords to look for are “Reef safe”. It’s also important to consider other chemicals we might carry into the water that may be harmful to reef or other marine wildlife, such as substances found in hair care products, face cream, or makeup. In these cases, it is unclear to me if a simple soapy shower prior to swimming will do the trick. Luckily there is a one-stop shop for MANY beauty products on the market. The Environmental Working Group’s database rates sunscreens, beauty products, perfumes, as well as makeup. They also have an app for those on-the-go decisions. All we can do is try…

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[1] This is supported by a 2008 study conducted by Roberto Danovaro, et al. on the effects of certain sunscreen chemicals on coral reefs in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans, as well as the Red Sea. See the study referenced in Ker Than, “Swimmers’ Sunscreen Killing Off Coral.” National Geographic News. January 29, 2008.

How to Pleasurably Cut Back on Holiday Sweets

Escape. Running woman refuses to eating tasty cakes. DietingSweets seem to be just about everywhere during the holiday season– between the holiday parties, the family gatherings, the strategically placed treats at the supermarket, and the vacations– the variety and bounty of sugar can be difficult to resist. How many of us end up eating foods around the holidays that we actually don’t want to eat simply because they are in front of us? We see it, eat it, and have a physical reaction—we just don’t feel good—but this can also be psychological– we feel bad/guilty/gross/oh my! In part we feel this way because we did not act according to what is important to us. Cutting ourselves off completely from sweets can feel un-festive and bad as well though. In addition, it may not be a realistic goal for many who have never successfully done that before. This blog therefore contains an eating strategy for those of us who are either not ready or don’t want to go cold turkey but are committed to being more intentional and disciplined in our holiday eating.

Many of us have one holiday treat that we really lust after. Mine is pumpkin pie— a fluffy, custardy pumpkin pie whose filling is so silky I could put it on like lingerie. Perhaps your treat involves chocolate or festively decorated gingerbread or candy canes or rich egg nog… In any case, how many of us end up eating all of it? At the office holiday party, we load our plates with whatever draws us in in that moment. For example, how many of us have eaten those powdery Italian wedding cookies that make an appearance this time of year even though we know they’re usually not that good.

This holiday season be choosy. Invest only in the thing you love and get monogamous with your favorite sweet. Let it be your primary source of sweet pleasure. Select one thing— chocolate Bon Bons, gingerbread, even that Italian wedding cookie—and refuse all other temptation. This increases the likelihood that you will ultimately consume less. In addition, your body has to work harder when you eat a lot of different kinds of foods and it becomes harder to realize when you are satisfied and when to stop eating.

In addition, each rendezvous between your favorite sweet and your tastebuds will be much sweeter. This is not to say that you should eat every last bite of your chosen treat available on the table or even as much as your heart desires in that moment. To the contrary! Start with a small amount. Eat slowly—make it a marathon and not a sprint. Relish in it. Savor. Every. Bite. Notice how the quality of this one compares to others you’ve had. What do you appreciate about this one, this moment?

Bringing more consciousness to your eating and cutting back on the things that do not serve you will not only help you to navigate the holidays with ease and enjoyment, but it also starts you off on a less guilty, more pleasurable New Year. Here’s to a happy and healthy 2015!

Postpartum Exercise: Running Tips from a Breastfeeding Mom*

Crossing the Finish Line.RealGuest blog by: Stephanie Harad

I’ve always hated running and I’ve never thought of myself as athletic but after becoming a mom I decided to train for and run a half marathon. Becoming a mom was a huge identity shift for me and I lost my focus on pretty much everything else. After a while I felt like I needed to re-ground myself a little bit.

I began jogging with the stroller once or twice a week when my daughter was about 3 months old. I found that leaning on the stroller actually helped with the discomfort of running with heavy, milk-full breasts because it minimized the bouncing up and down motion. I also hiked a lot as long as my baby was willing to sleep in a carrier. As time went on she became less and less interested in being in a carrier for more than a few minutes and I simultaneously felt more and more healed from the birth and wanted to exercise a little more vigorously, so I started to increase my running. Though it was difficult, I found that I really cherished those times that I was really in my body, using it to get fit and take care of myself after spending the rest of my time dedicated to my baby’s needs.

So why running? It seemed like a realistic form of exercise for me as a nursing mom. I love the bicycle but it took way too long to get a good workout on a bicycle and my toddler will not happily sit in a bicycle seat for hours. Swimming or going to the gym was out of the question for me because driving took an impossible amount of time. Running is something I could do with a stroller if necessary and I could do it right out of my front door. I could have used exercise machines and DVD’s at home of course but leaving the house was a very important mental health component of my exercise choice.

Eventually, I needed a goal that was going to be hard to achieve but possible, that was completely about me and something I’ve always kind of wanted to be able to do but never thought I could. I happened to hear that there was going to be a half marathon in my town in the fall and it felt like the perfect thing to try. There were many things that appealed to me about racing (though I had never done it before) but the social component was a huge factor. Being a new mom has been such an intense experience for me, figuring out so much on my own because no other baby is exactly the same as mine– it can be isolating. Running a race, however is an incredible feeling because there are hundreds or thousands of you all undertaking the same challenge in the same way and so many people cheering for you and supporting you along the way and after. And if you’re lucky you can even find a buddy to train with, though I did not regularly train with anyone because I wanted to make sure I was going to go slowly enough to avoid injury – more on that below.

When I started training, I was still breastfeeding on demand around the clock, about 6-8 times in a 24-hour period. I was concerned about the impact that increasing mileage would have on my body because I still hadn’t gotten my period so I wasn’t sure if I was already lacking something nutritionally and was going to further tax my body and thus deplete my milk supply. I was unable to find professionals to consult about this but I did know another breastfeeding mom who ran a great deal more than I would be running and I figured I would just try it and listen to my body. In terms of finding information about how to train for a run and what to do when injured, etc., I just used my social networks. I posted questions on Facebook and found that I had a lot of acquaintances who are experienced runners. I found them to be much more helpful resources than the local doctors I visited. For example, there are a lot of training plans out there and, after consulting my runner friends, I decided on the Hal Hidgon Novice program even though it is not geared specifically for mothers but it was the most reasonable for me.

Training for a distance race felt pretty rigorous as an inexperienced runner. Most training plans require you to run 4x a week and cross-train another day. If you are a nursing mom, that kind of time commitment can be really difficult to pull off but I also felt like it provided a very real and compelling reason for me to take a break from all my mom-related duties almost every day. I felt I couldn’t miss too many workouts or I wouldn’t be ready for the race so I was very motivated to carve out that time for myself in a way that I wasn’t when I was just running for fitness a few times a week.

Of course a nursing mom may not be the running-focused, shockingly unencumbered, fit and resilient male athlete who is the intended audience of running books and blogs. A nursing mom is full of bone- and ligament-softening hormones and is often getting very little sleep, not to mention giving most of her calcium and vitamin D away all day. So we are much, much more prone to injury and have to be a LOT more careful than most people. Running injuries are ubiquitous anyway and can be serious, sidelining athletes for 3-6 months or longer, which is also devastating on a mental health level. I sustained some minor injuries to my feet and knee always after running faster than I should have. Again my runner friends were incredibly helpful with advice on how to take care of myself when injured. While seeking professional help can be important, people who have a lot of experience running have usually dealt with a lot of injuries and can share what works and what doesn’t.

When you start training you will start to see how incredibly addictive running can become even if you used to hate it, even if you still hate it. The race itself was a party the whole time with people playing music and cheering all along the way. And that feeling when I crossed that finish line, achieving my goal is something I will remember forever. I’m grinning as I type this. I felt unstoppable, even as I choked on the watermelon Gatorade that I foolishly drank at mile 12.5. And my baby saw all of this. She saw that I worked so hard to do something that I used to dismiss as impossible. (Also, babies and toddlers really like race packets. My daughter still asks me regularly if we can go get a race packet.) Now I’m thinking of training for a full marathon next year. My breast milk supply was not affected and I’m still breastfeeding on demand. I am so glad I took on this life-changing challenge and was able to model this for my baby. I highly recommend it or something like it!

And if this is something you are considering, here is some advice to help you stay healthy:

  1. Don’t let the time commitment to train scare you off! You can totally adjust as needed! I went on vacation towards the end of my training and didn’t run for a week and I didn’t lose my fitness. An important thing that I was advised though, is that when you do miss workouts don’t try to make up the miles because that may lead to injury. Just skip it if you skip it.
  1. If you nurse right before running, wait until the fuzzy, gooey, gummy-boned feeling goes away before you run or stretch too much. That feeling happens as a result of a hormone surge and it increases your likelihood of injury because the hormones are softening your ligaments and tissues and bones. For me, it takes about 45 min to go away but it’s different for everyone. To protect those bones and ligaments and muscles further, I was advised to take calcium and Vitamin D supplements if you are not already.
  1. Go slow and don’t do speed work. Most of us with little time want to get the biggest bang for our buck when we exercise and are used to working out very hard. Training for long races is all about learning how to hold yourself back. It is hard in the beginning but so important to minimize the risk of injury and hopefully help you learn to run negative splits (not burning yourself out in the beginning of the race so you can run the second half of the race faster than the first half) . If this is your first long distance race a great goal is just to finish so you don’t have to worry about speed. Even if you do have a time goal remember that you generally go faster on race day than you do in training, especially in long distance races, so you don’t have to worry too much about speed in your training My race was mostly downhill but I ran about 2 minutes per mile faster in the race than when I trained.
  1. Hydrate! Breastfeeding mothers need a ton of hydration so hydrate more than you think you do. I’m all about sports drinks when running even though I know they’re gross.
  1. Always stretch after each run. Use a foam roller as often as possible at night before bed. I know as soon as you walk in the door you’re on baby duty and it’s very hard to stretch but some stretches you can do while nursing. Or stretch outside in front of your house before you walk in even if you feel ridiculous.
  1. And finally, make sure to eat healthy fats and carbs. Runners need increased amounts of fats and carbs and breastfeeding runners even more so. Pregnancy and the first year and a half or two after giving birth are such a special and intense time regarding your relationship with your body and the way that it changes. I know for me I was carrying around more weight than I ever had when I began running, and when I did introduce running I felt a not-even-totally-conscious desire to try to get my body back to my ideal of a totally fit/athletic body. But this really isn’t the time to do that and I had to work very hard to resist it. Your body is working so hard to provide fuel for you to breastfeed, to function on no sleep, and to do all this running. You need the carbs and fats that you are craving in order to stay healthy and keep making milk. (Wooden Spoon Wellness’s Pre- or Post-Workout Muscle-Builder Smoothie, for example, satisfies a lot of these needs, FYI.) Back in the thousands of years ago times, we used to live in tribes where there would be lots of lactating women who could feed each others’ babies in a pinch so evolutionarily your body is wired to keep your vitamins and minerals for yourself and stop producing milk if need be. You have to make sure your body feels like it has enough to go around. The positive side to this unique period of closeness with your body is that you are able to hear loud and clear what your body needs and it’s easier to listen to it.

Stephanie Harad is a social worker, mother to a very enthusiastic nurser, and an addicted runner. She lives in Santa Fe, NM with her wife and daughter and sometimes blogs at Dispatches from the Motherland.

*Health coach’s disclaimer: This post is not meant to provide medical advice. If you are considering taking up long-distance running, even if you ran at one point in your life, first check with a licensed medical professional to ensure that it is safe for your body. Once cleared, rock on with your bad self!

Maintaining Energy When You Just Want to Hibernate

Happy and Fun African WomanIt is official. What I call ‘hibernation syndrome’ has officially set in. This is what I call the phenomenon that develops each time the cool winter air blows into town and all many of us wants to do is to curl up in (or with) something (or someone) cozy. Plans start to be cancelled more frequently, errands are postponed, movement becomes limited and exercise time is traded for couch time.

Like other mammals, humans’ bodies change during the cold weather months and our lifestyle and body’s needs change. It is important to listen to your body but it can be easy to slip into unhealthy patterns. Here are a few tips to maintain energy and a healthy lifestyle if hibernation syndrome strikes you:

  1. Move your bowels regularly. I know, not the sexiest of topics but a sedentary lifestyle may not make you feel sexy either… Moving around less, especially if you’re eating rich holiday foods or warming but heavy stews, can lead to a slower metabolism. Because your body is processing food more slowly, constipation can easily happen. Here are some ways to prevent this from happening or address it when it does occur:
    1. Integrate fiber-rich foods each day. Cooked, dark, leafy greens are great, flaxseeds that you grind yourself (a small coffee grinder does the job well) sprinkled on plain yogurt. Almond milk with chia, flax and pumpkin seeds can help clear things out as well.
    2. Keep your inner flora lively. Even if you are tired, your body needs good bacteria to work for you to digest your food. Good bacteria can be introduced through fermented foods such as sauerkraut or other raw, pickled vegetables. You can find them at the store but be sure to buy ones that do NOT contain vinegar, citric acid or sugar. Fermented foods are actually really easy to make yourself and a great way to preserve some of the autumn produce through the winter months. Sandor Katz has some great recipes on his blog and in his book, Wild Fermentation.
  1. Move your hips regularly. Just because you are not at the gym or bopping around outside, doesn’t mean that you can’t remain active.
    1. Buy or stream low-cost or free dance and exercise classes, like Gaiam’s Wake Up Workout, or Crunch gyms’ Crunch Live. Wii has fun dance and workout games as well.
    2. Stream gentle movement classes. If you’re feeling lower energy and you want to support your alignment, you might try Katy Bowman’s low-cost movement classes.
    3. At the very least, get out of your seat every 15 minutes. Stand up, roll your hips and neck around, change positions when you return to where you sit, or change where you sit. Move to the floor, a balance ball, a chair instead of the couch. A good way to ensure that you move frequently is to drink a lot of water or herbal tea.
  1. Reduce the quantity of food you eat (unless you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have an eating disorder, or already eat small amounts of foods in which case, skip this one.) The average American tends to eat more during the winter months according to Dr. Rallie McAllister but there are many reasons why we may not need to eat as much in the winter months.[1] As mentioned above, you may move less so you do not need as many calories.[2] In addition, the food you are eating is likely to be denser and heavier: a bowl full of lentil soup for example can be more than double the calories of a bowl of gazpacho.[3] Here are a few ways to adjust your eating according to the new season:
    1. Experiment with eating smaller portions. If you eat heavier, denser foods in the winter, such as stews, potato and root vegetables, eat smaller portions than you would in the warmer months. Take what you might normally take and then put a quarter of it back. After you’ve eaten this portion, wait 10 minutes and see if you are still hungry. If so, take a small amount more, i.e. a couple of tablespoons of the squash puree, half a potato, etc.
    2. Stay warm. Sometimes we might feel an unconscious instinct to eat a lot because it is a way to put on weight and keep our bodies insulated from the cold. There are other ways to stay insulated without gaining weight. This can be accomplished by eating cooked, warming foods and not cooling, raw foods, drinking hot beverages, maintaining good blood circulation by regularly moving your body, and having the right clothing.
  1. Have on-hand warm winter clothes that you are excited to wear. In addition to potentially helping to curb over-eating, good winter gear may just give you more incentive to go out, even when Jack Frost is nipping at your toes.
    1. Clothes that keep you warm: for this, we turn to the animals who are able to stay outside without needing a coat. My favorites are tightly woven wool and silk. These materials when kept close to our skin are amazing insulators. There are a variety of price points for winter gear and the warmest of the warm can get expensive quickly. Online stores often have deals, like Amazon for silk long underwear or eBay for brands like Ibex, which makes lightweight but SUPER warm wool clothes. This type of clothing is an investment but one that can save you money on having to buy multiple layers.
    2. Clothes that you make you feel HOT or fun. Find yourself a sexy sweater, maybe there’s a furry color involved, or a fun-colored hat or pair of gloves (Freezy Freaky anyone????) Having clothes you want to wear can make the difference between a night sitting on the couch with a large bowl of popcorn and a night accomplishing all of your errands or bopping around with friends.

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[1] Colette Bouchez. “Control Your Winter Appetite.” WebMD.

[2] See the USDA’s guidelines for estimated calories needed for a sedentary lifestyle as compared to an active lifestyle.

[3] One cup of lentil soup is approximately 136 calories according to CalorieCount. Two cups of gazpacho is approximately 59 calories according to the same source. Please note that I cite this calorie comparison only as a means of displaying the density of the foods we tend to eat during the cold months as compared to the warm months. I do not incorporate calorie counting into my health coaching philosophy.

“Violet! You’re turning violet!” or, How I Turned Orange from Eating Too Many Orange Vegetables

Concerned young woman looking in mirror

As it turns out, Roald Dahl’s violet-colored plot twist in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was not pulled from thin air. People can actually turn a different color from eating certain foods, especially this time of year when colorful vegetables abound. I know some people enjoy their pumpkins and fall produce like it’s nobody’s business (you know who you are!) so I thought I’d share a bit more about this largely harmless condition.

When I was in my early twenties, I worked for a museum and, as happens with all jobs, I went through a very busy time at work. I was at the office for 10-12 hour stretches and felt like I couldn’t break for lunch so my response was to nosh on a bag of baby carrots dipped in Hampton Chutney Co’s cilantro chutney. (It is made with coconut and chiles and dates among other things and it is highly addictive.) It was delicious and easy and filled me for the day.[1] When I wasn’t working, I would nest at home and eat copious amounts of a kabocha squash, a Japanese winter vegetable I’d just learned about. It was hearty and sweet, as if a potato and a butternut squash had a baby, and I could not get enough.

One day at work I went to give one of my co-workers something from the archive and as I handed it to him he asked what happened to my hands. “What are you talking about? Nothing.” “You’re orange,” he said. I looked more closely and realized that he was right. I immediately called my mom, who is a nurse, and she told me to check the bottom of my feet as well. Sure enough, they glowed like the setting sun. She asked if I’d been eating a lot of orange vegetables and, after telling her about my carrot and squash obsessions, she told me that there was a good chance my skin was taking on the color of the vegetables as a result of carotenosis, a condition caused by the consumption of copious amounts of beta carotene. In light-complexioned folks, carotenoids cause skin to turn a yellowish-orange color, not unlike a light spray tan. In darker-complexioned people, the skin turns a yellowish-brown. Luckily, my new chameleon qualities were the only side effect I experienced but I was definitely curious to learn more.

Beta carotene is found in orange-yellow vegetables (e.g. pumpkins, carrots, and winter squashes such as butternut, acorn, spaghetti and honeynut), as well as tomatoes and dark, leafy greens. It converts to Vitamin A in the body and can be helpful to the skin, tissues, lungs, mucous membranes, as well as vision.[2] Beta carotene is also an antioxidant of the carotenoid variety which means that it supports the immune system. In addition, regular consumption can help prevent some kinds of cancers[3] and regulate blood sugar. Some scientists and nutritionists believe that you can gain these benefits from eating at least 5 servings of beta carotene-filled fruits and vegetables per day but this is not conclusive and the FDA has not issued a recommended daily allowance.[4]

Various medical studies show that carotenosis is not harmful when it develops from eating a lot of beta carotene-rich vegetables and fruits.[5] Carotenosis from beta carotene supplements however can lead to more serious issues such as hypervitaminosis A, or having too much Vitamin A in your system. This can be particularly dangerous during pregnancy and has been shown to lead to birth defects in some women.[6] Pregnant women are thus advised to source their beta carotene from fruit and vegetable if possible. If you must take supplements, including a multivitamin, talk with your doctor about safe dosages.[7]

Because my carotenosis occurred from natural sources, I was fine. I cleared the condition and my skin returned to normal by avoiding beta carotene rich foods for a few weeks and by diversifying my diet. I integrated brown and white vegetables such as potatoes, pears, daikon or white radishes, turnips and parsnips, as well as proteins of all forms and whole grains. Just because my health was not affected by carotenosis however, it is still not a good idea to eat pumpkins at every meal. Most nutrition experts recommend a varied diet with an array of colors and types of foods. However, if you’ve recently been indulging in a colorful-vegetable kick and you’ve noticed a soft glow that you have not seen before, try changing your diet before the oompa loompas come for you.

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[1] Health coach’s disclaimer: While eating a simple diet during stressful times can be helpful for maintaining energy levels, I do not recommend replacing meals with baby carrots and chutney. Baby carrots are processed foods and thus do not contain as many nutrients as fresh carrots. In addition, the dates in the chutney combined with the sweet carrots contain a high amount of sugar. I also advise eating a diet rich in a variety of types of foods (i.e. a mix of proteins, vegetables, and whole grains.)

[2] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002400.htm

[3] http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=63; http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/999.html

[4] http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/betacarotene

[5] http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/can-much-betacarotene-cause-yellow-skin-2041.html; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8449701; http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1365-4362.2003.01657.x/abstract;jsessionid=504472D38568D43F3B1A2CB671A08516.f03t03

[6] http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA400486/Eating-Too-Many-Carrots.html; Dr. Holly Roberts. Your Vegetarian Pregnancy: A Month-by-Month Guide to Health and Nutrition. New York: Fireside, 2003. p. 52

[7] See http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/betacarotene

Game of Tongues: How to Develop Your Palate (& Have Fun)

Closeup of lips with red lipstick holding pepperminThe tongue is perhaps one of the more complicated parts of the human body and innumerable blog posts could be written about this magical muscle. This particular post will focus on the particular experience we have when tongues touch food as well as ways to expand this experience (or just have fun).

The process of tasting occurs when something (i.e. food) stimulates receptors on the tongue (taste buds) that then send a message to the brain. The brain interprets the transmission as “Taste!” and associates it with a specific kind or kinds of taste: sweet, salty, bitter, sour. [1]

The tongue learns many other things when it touches something: it learns the temperature and texture of the substance, it evaluates the substance according to our likes and dislikes, and sometimes it can detect whether or not a food is harmful to us. This complex muscle has plenty of time to evolve because taste is one of the first senses to develop in humans. Many believe that babies put just about everything in their mouths in order to understand the world around them. As Robin Goldstein, Ph.D. says, “Babies don’t just put things in their mouths for pleasure or comfort; they also use their mouths for exploration. They learn about objects by tasting them, feeling their texture and experimenting with them.” [2]

Certainly, not every toy needs to be tasted or opening licked. (See for example, this hysterically awesome Discovery article, “Things You Shouldn’t Lick,” which was written in response to eye-licking trends in Japan.)  But when was the last time you used your tongue to explore and learn more about the world and the food in it?

Especially as the weather starts to grow colder, here’s a fun game to play while you’re bundled inside. This can be totally G-rated and played with a friend or you can modify it and turn it into a sensual game. To add some extra spice to the game, if your partner agrees, throw a blindfold into the mix. It can also be fun to play on your own. Ask a friend to identify some foods you’ve never tried before or just create a shopping list yourself, and rock out on a solo expedition!

Game of Tongues

  1. Choosing the foods: Create a list of foods and beverages that have different textures and temperatures and hit different notes on the palate (sweet, salty, sour, bitter). Be sure to choose foods that you know your partner is not allergic to and that will not burn their tongue or crack their teeth. Have your partner do the same, creating a list for you. Here are a few ideas: sweet/smooth- peach nectar; sweet/salty/crunchy- good quality chocolate bar with fun things inside like brown butter or sea salt and almonds; sour/sweet- mangoes w/chili and lime, kumquat; sour/salty/crunchy- pickled green beans, kimchi; sweet/bitter/smooth- Aperol (an alcoholic beverage), grapefruit with all of the white pith removed—just the pods of juiciness; bitter- arugula, mustard greens, cocoa nibs; cold/smooth- frozen cherries; warm/chunky- baked mashed yams.
  1. Preparing the food: Remove foods from any packaging and put in glasses or bowls so they are not easily recognizable.
  2. Blindfold your partner if they’ve agreed to it in advance.
  3. Ask your partner to lick the item and describe it. Here are some prompting questions if they need help: What did you notice about the texture? Tell me about the temperature. Does it remind you of anything you’ve tasted or smelled before?
  4. Have your partner take a small bite or sip and roll it on your tongue: What new do you learn? Describe it. Can you guess what this is?
  5. In between the foods, have your partner suck on a lemon wedge and drink a few sips of water in order to clear their palate.
  6. When you’ve gone through everything, identify for your partner the foods they ate and debrief: What did they want more of? What would they eat again? What about the taste/texture/temperature did they enjoy?
  7. Switch! Now it’s your turn.

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[1] HowStuffWorks.com; University of Texas Health Science Center; Stanford University Psychology Department.

[2] Robin Goldstein, Ph.D. “Into the Mouths of Babies,” Washington Parent. September 2010.

 

Touch… for Your Health

As the weather begins to cool, it becomes easy to retreat into our caves. Hibernation syndrome starts to kick in (particularly amongst those of us who live in pedestrian or bike culture), we crave more sleep as the sun sets earlier and earlier, or we start to feel that change of season cold and stay inside to rest. While listening to our bodies is important, various medical practices believe that going the route of the hermit may not always serve us, especially if we are not feeling well or if we are low energy. In fact, safe touch with another human being in sexual or non-sexual ways can heal various physical and mental ailments.

A recent articleHolding hands on wooden background in Women’s Health magazine, “The Amazing, Beautiful Power of Touch,” discusses new studies about the many ways non-sexual touch can help cure physical and emotional ailments. [1] Massage, for example, has been shown to trigger immune-building cells. In addition, it stimulates the brain to release hormones that relieve stress, reduce pain, create a sense of peace, and sometimes even happiness. [2] Even a soft touch on the arm or back when you’re not feeling well… Perhaps it depends on who is doing the touching but in situations that feel safe, how do you feel when someone you trust makes even that small gesture? If you’re not sure, notice your body’s response the next time someone touches you in a platonic way.

Safe sexual touch can trigger similar responses according to many schools of thought. As my acupuncturist said to me the other day (and as if we need another reason), Marvin Gaye had it right: sex can be healing. This is a core tenant of ancient Indian Tantric philosophy as well as Traditional Chinese Medicine. Tantric beliefs posit that deep healing can result from sexual acts that stem from spiritual connection (as opposed to ego, pleasure-driven motivations). See for example, Dr. Rafe Biggs’ writings about the ways Tantric practices have enabled him to heal parts of his body and sexuality following a severe accident that left him quadriplegic. [3] Even WebMD asserts that doing the deed can cure the sneezes and a recent story published on CNN’s website claims that kissing can HELP migraines and cramps. (There goes the ol’, “I have a headache excuse…”) [4]

Whether we are in the mood to connect with other humans or not, platonically or sexually, if the opportunity arises and you are considering it, or you are craving connection, know that this can be a gift that you give to yourself. Ya know, for your health…

——–

[1]  Sushma Subramanian, “The Amazing, Beautiful Power of Touch,” Women’s Health magazine, March 7, 2014. See also Norine Dworkin-McDaniel. “Touching Makes Your Happier,” CNN Health.com, January 5, 2011.

[2]  See Ironson, G., Field, T.M., Scafidi, F., Hashimoto, M., Kumar, M., Kumar, A., Price, A., Goncalves, A., Burman, I. , Tetenman, C., Patarca, R. & Fletcher, M.A. (1996). “Massage therapy is associated with enhancement of the immune system’s cytotoxic capacity.” International Journal of Neuroscience, 84, 205-217; Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2008 May; 42(5):414-22. “Pilot study evaluating the effect of massage therapy on stress, anxiety and aggression in a young adult psychiatric inpatient unit.” Garner B1, Phillips LJ, Schmidt HM, Markulev C, O’Connor J, Wood SJ, Berger GE, Burnett P, McGorry PD.

[3] Dr. Rafe Biggs, “Tantra as a Healing Modality.” AwakeningBody.com, August 2008.

[4] Kara Meyer Robinson, “10 Surprising Health Benefits of Sex.” WedMD; Valerie Reiss, “8 Health Benefits of Kissing.” CNN Health, February 7, 2014.

I’m Late! (But I’m Not Sorry.)

Stressed young woman, student, worker running out of time

According to the top of my newsletter, The Monthly Mix, I distribute new blogs on the second Tuesday of every month. This blog would therefore have been scheduled to upload to my site and broadcast to the world ten days ago. I am late.

Perhaps at some point you have been late as well. Perhaps this is a frequent state-of-being for many of you. How do you experience lateness? Do you and the people who love you accept it as part of your way of being in the world? Or do you become consumed with guilt about the lateness? Do you put pressure on yourself to compensate and create something fantastic so you don’t submit something late AND of poor quality? And once you finally arrive at that dinner or submit that tardy project, do you apologize profusely or try to ‘make it up’ to the person or your boss?

So many factors contribute to our experience of tardiness. It may depend on the risk or the perceived risk, for example. Someone who believes that they will lose their job may respond to their boss very differently than to their brother whose car is returned late. Cultural factors may diminish risk as well because some cultures do not set deadlines or attach firm timelines to things. Anyone who has ever spent time in India, for example, can attest that only someone who thinks entirely differently about time could maintain patience and a smile while waiting for a train that is two days late leaving the station.

Our response might also depend on our level of agency in the lateness: How much control did we have over the situation that led to our tardiness? Did we account for possible delays? Did we continue to do things that, on some level, we knew would delay our arrival?

In a moment of lateness, especially in fast-paced urban life, many of us become internally focused. We can become fixated on how we are NOT where we need to be and being present can be very challenging. We set our sites exclusively on our destination. (This is where I think we New Yorkers end up getting a bad rap.) When rushing to the subway and someone gets in my way, I am not always warm and smiley. Yes, it is true— although I am a health coach who empowers people with stress management tools, I have moments when I slip into patterns that do not serve me. (I’d like to think that this enables me to relate to my clients. 🙂 )

Sometimes this internal focus and narrow vision runs counter to our ultimate goal. We rush to have a relaxing evening with our partner or we speed to get to a first date because we are excited to connect with someone after many months of not having romance but we end up closing ourselves off to people or experiences who cross our rushed path between here and there. And how many times have you been running to something where you wanted to look put together and you break your shoe?

A few weeks ago, I was hurriedly walking toward the laundromat in my torn jeans and sneakers pushing a granny cart full of dirty clothes. I had many things to do that day and I needed clean clothing but I was about 30 minutes past the time when I intended to start my laundry. I was in my head, reviewing the many tasks and client appointments on my plate and recalibrating my plan when I came upon the end of a funeral. Groups of people in their fine, black outfits were huddled around each other and a hearse was backing out of a church driveway blocking my path. A startling reality outside of my head became very clear. Despite my lateness, I waved the hearse on. He indicated no and that I should go but I insisted. The hearse passed along and then I saw a line of people in front of me leaving the funeral. They were walking toward me with their heads down, their arms around an elderly lady in the middle, helping her to walk. They did not see me because they were focused on the elderly woman but they also blocked my path. I stood where I was patiently waiting and not saying anything. The younger woman finally looked up and began to apologize profusely for delaying me. I looked to her and smiled and said, “You have more important things to take care of right now.” As I went through the rest of my day, I kept thinking back to that moment and the choice that I made. But what about the people on the receiving end of my lateness?

There are many reasons for lateness. We have anxiety or fear about the deadline or what might take place at the appointed time. We shift our priorities and the thing we originally committed to becomes less important than the other thing/s we spend our time on. This blog is late because of overlapping events that led to grief and loss. Certainly explaining the reason for our lateness can be helpful to the person on the receiving end of our lateness and perhaps it will inspire compassion in the other person but it also might inspire anger or feelings of disrespect. At what point do our reasons for lateness become excuses? Once we arrive or the project has been submitted, of what significance are these reasons?

I find that often I or others apologize for lateness. But when is an apology warranted and when is it not warranted? Many believe that women apologize more than men. [1] How many times have you apologized for things that are not your fault—you actually budgeted time for delays but a fluke disaster occurred or you bumped into someone on the subway because the subway car jerked. Should we be sorry for things outside of our control? Should we be sorry in situations when we are acting according to our values? If I stop to help someone disabled across the street and am late to meet a friend as a result, should I apologize? What if I am not in the emotional state to follow through on plans in the timeframe I originally committed to?

As I develop a life of increased present-ness and intentionality, I have started to look at the ways my actions affect others and ways to respond that are true to who I am. When does taking responsibility mean reinforcing what is important to me and not apologizing? When does taking responsibility mean that I own my mistakes and request forgiveness?

May we all find space and clarity in the way we spend our short time on this earth and may we invest in the things that ultimately help us to grow.

——-

[1] Rachel Rettner, “Study Reveals Why Women Apologize So Much.” Live Science. September 27, 2010; Kelly Wallace, “Sorry to ask but… do women apologize more than men?” CNN.com, June 26, 2014.

 

5 Ways to Remain Grounded during Trying Times

woman standing under rain cloudWe all have moments when our world falls apart: our personal universe shatters because of a breakup, a lost loved one, a fire that destroys all of our material possessions. Or we become overwhelmed by others’ despair and the terrible things people do to one another, such as the violence in Gaza and Israel, ebola in West Africa, or water shutoffs in under-resourced communities in Detroit. Sometimes, the world just sucks.

When stuck in the middle of a downpour without an umbrella, what do you do? Do you get angry and curse for the rest of the day, or laugh uncontrollably and throw your hands into the air in surrender? Do you try to ignore the situation and go about business as usual while suffering quietly inside, or take the “Fake-It-‘Til-You-Make-It” route?

People respond in different ways and most often through coping mechanisms that we’ve used many times over the years. The way we deal with trying times is a choice however. Our established coping mechanisms may serve us in some ways but they sometimes can protect us so much from our surroundings or from other people that we lose our ability to be present. The troubling issues or moments thus stay with us long after the chaos subsides. We can change the way we deal though.

Here are 5 ways to remain present and grounded during times that challenge your soul:

  1. Identify what is in your control to change and what is not.
  1. Invest energy in the things that are in your control to change. This means dedicating time to finding resources to support you, or taking action to resolve the situation, or changing your attitude or mindset. 
  1. Identify things in your life that you appreciate. Everything may feel like it is going to hell but there are other parts of your reality as well. Things that bring even the tiniest amount of satisfaction or nourishment to you can become lost in the shuffle of turmoil: a delicious vegetable, a pair of shoes that were not destroyed in the fire, YouTube videos of cute puppies (you know who you are), a smile from a stranger on the street, or an amazing, blessed friend. What are these glimmers of awesomeness in your life? What has the world given and not just taken?
  1. Invest in the things you appreciate. Create the space and time for the things you appreciate and express your gratitude for them during the moments when you enjoy them. Thank your shoes and the people who made them, smile at other people so that they will smile at you, or sit down to a marathon of cute puppy videos. You are alive so all cannot be lost.
  1. Connect with others in pain AND in joy. If you are in the space to be open to other people, it is often easiest to connect through pain, by talking about what is wrong, or crying together, or being angry together. Most healers, Western and Eastern, recommend acknowledging and expressing these feelings, especially if you have experienced trauma, but this can also become a pattern and we can become stuck in a loop of connecting with others through pain. One way to prevent this or to get out of this loop is to regularly, deeply connect with people through pleasure, without intoxicants. The ability to laugh or to (safely) make love or dance or play music with others reminds us of our aliveness and creates a reserve of strength from which we can draw when the despair sets in again.

You may notice that Tips 1 and 3 discuss cultivating awareness and Tips 2 and 4 discuss taking action. Sometimes action can feel like a big effort, sometimes too much of an effort. Start with one or both of the awareness tips and see if the action tips are realistic for you and your situation. In any case, as a great Yoda once said, “may the force be with you,” as you weather the storm.

 

In-vitro Fertilization: Take One, Take Two….

thoughtful business woman(Guest blog by Anonymous in Brooklyn)

Nearly a third of all cases of infertility are unexplained. For many women, this diagnosis can be incredibly frustrating, especially if you’re the kind of person that’s accustomed to knuckling down and getting sh*t done. There’s no “solution” to find—just a whole lot of hope. This was just the first of many things I had to learn to surrender to during my 5-year journey to attain the seemingly elusive and miraculous gift of pregnancy.

My partner and I eventually arrived at a point where IVF was our only remaining option. Again, this can be a very fraught decision for many couples: it’s taxing physically, emotionally and financially, and, you’re taking a huge leap of faith that all of this will result in an entirely new life. For me, the scariest part was investing all this money and failing (me, personally, disappointing my husband, my family, myself). When you do IVF, you feel like everything is riding on whether or not your body does what it’s “supposed” to do, which it hasn’t done up to this point. It’s far more complicated than that, of course, but it’s hard not to feel the weight of this venture on your shoulders.

Our first attempt, which fell over the December holidays, resulted in an ectopic pregnancy. I was devastated, and as much as my partner wanted to support me, I think it’s a difficult thing for a man to relate to, especially a loss early in the pregnancy. I didn’t know it intellectually at the time, but instinctively I sought out the support of other women – my mother, my sister, but also women who had the resources and knowledge to help me heal and prepare for my next try. This is what brought me to Rachel.

Rachel came to our meeting armed with bags of raspberry leaf tea (good for toning the uterus and balancing hormones) and an informational packet on other herbal and foods that would be helpful during this restoration period. She also strongly recommended that I seek out an acupuncturist who specializes in fertility and could treat me for three months or so before I tried again. At the time, the suggestion that I needed to slow down and wait was difficult to hear, but she helped me see that this time could be a blessing in disguise if I fully embraced it.

I followed all of Rachel’s advice, taking the space I needed to recover and build my confidence in my ability to get pregnant. I visited a fertility acupuncturist weekly, improved my diet by adding more greens and reducing sugar and gluten, and made time for yoga, running and mediation. I also focused on trying to kick ass at work, since I hadn’t been at my level best during the pregnancy loss. I actually ended up pushing my next fertility treatment back an additional month so I could take a trip with friends to Puerto Rico. The sunshine and warm seawater was the perfect, final preparation for my second try (which was a frozen embryo cycle, not full IVF).

I’m happy to report that this cycle was successful. All mothers-to-be face the uncertainty that the first trimester inherently brings, but now I feel l have the tools to sit with my anxiety (thank you, Pema Chodron) and take positive steps toward maintaining my health and, hopefully, the pregnancy.

I’m sharing this story because I know from my visits to the clinic that there are so many women struggling with infertility and finding the right resources and support is essential to maintaining your wellness and sanity. Truly, there is a good bit of magic to how this baby thing happens, for every woman who tries, and learning to let go, in whatever form that manifests, can be an enormous help.