This crazy life we live and how it’s affecting our health

Life can just be crazy sometimes. Okay let’s be real- it’s crazy ALL the time. We live in a world of unrealistic standards and expectations, and the demands we place on our bodies to meet them is exhausting us. The pressure is on to get the next pay raise or promotion, raise our kids to be the smartest and most talented, keep the house clean, drive our big kids to a million different activities, fill our little kid’s down time with never-ending Pinterest-inspired activities (because simple playing just isn’t good enough anymore) and finally… try get a good night’s sleep. And of course sleep is nearly impossible when all the things that need to be done are swirling around in our brains and just can’t be shut off. No wonder we’re tired! Sometimes I feel as if life is on fast forward and I just want to hit the pause button. But there’s no time for that! Right?!

It’s easy to get caught up in the craziness that life brings, but a lot of the time we just don’t have a choice. The laundry needs to get done. We need to meet deadlines at work. The grass needs to be mowed. If you have big kids you may have to help with homework, drive them to practices and get them off to school in the morning. With all the stuff that builds up during the day, I think the word “relax” has left our vocabulary. A lot of the time I will find myself thinking- okay, just need to get x, y and z done. Then I can relax! Haha nice try. There is always something to do.

Stress just sucks. It’s draining, it’s bad for our health and it just makes us crazy. Stress can set the stage for inflammation which is a precursor for most chronic health conditions (such as heart disease and diabetes). From a nutrition standpoint, it can affect the way we digest our foods, worsen irritable bowel syndrome and can deplete our bodies of nutrients (see post on leaky gut syndrome). From a mind-body health perspective, it can worsen our moods and reduce the production of serotonin and dopamine (feel- good chemicals our body makes).

Managing stress is just as important as putting healthy foods in your body. Health is multi-dimensional and nutrition is just one aspect. You can eat a perfect diet but if your body is chronically stressed you are still going to have low energy levels, digestion issues and a multitude of other health issues if it isn’t addressed correctly.

Don't we all need a little more of this in our lives?!
Don’t we all need a little more of this in our lives?!

Here are some ways that I would recommend to more effectively manage stress:

  1. Say No.

You don’t have to live to please everyone. You also don’t have to commit to everything. Is your activities calendar looking a little crazy? Are you finding yourself missing out on things you enjoy or losing quality time with family and friends because you have too many commitments? If you’re a parent, this goes for your kids too. It’s great for kids to be involved in extracurriculars, but if you have four kids and they are each involved in 3 different sports plus music class and drama class, plus they have homework to get done every night…you get the idea. Do everyone a favor and put a limit to the craziness.

2. Realize that we live in a world of impossible standards and move on.

 I think the social media world has put so many new pressures and expectations on moms (and everyone else for that matter) that are nearly impossible to meet. This generation of moms is just downright mean! No matter what we do for our kids, we are doing something wrong and someone will call us out on it. Of course when it comes to safety that’s a completely different issue, but kids will survive if their baby food isn’t homemade and I’m sure their cancer risk will be just as high from walking outside and breathing the “fresh” air as it would from using a certain brand of sunscreen or bath soap. Let’s just all agree that we love our kids and that our love for them isn’t compromised just because we have a different opinion on bedtimes and the brand of milk we buy them.

3. Exercise.

Exercise produces endorphins which are chemicals in the brain that make you feel energized and happy. Exercise helps you sleep better which in turn gives you a more alert mind and enhances cognitive function. Enough said.

4. Put away the processed foods and reach for the good stuff.

Eating sugar-laden junk food may be easy to reach for when we are stressed out, but it actually makes the situation worse. Processed food promotes inflammation which creates more stress on our bodies. Don’t restrict calories either because that can increase cortisol levels (which are already high during stressful times) which can promote weight gain and fat storage. Fill your diet with healthy fats like avocado, fish oils, nuts and seeds along with nutrient dense fruits, veggies and lean proteins. You’ll have more energy and your body will be in healthier state to manage stress.

5. Sleep!!!

Not getting enough sleep can affect your mood, decisions about food (being sleep-deprived will make you more likely to grab something sugary), hormone balance, metabolism and activity levels. It can make you more irritable and make your stress levels even worse.

6. Get a good support system.

Sometimes you just need to vent. Or you just need a mediator to help you reason. Having a safe support system, whether this be friends, family or colleagues is crucial. They can provide a listening ear to help you sort through your feelings and may even help you make a tough decision or provide encouragement.

7. Allow for some flexibility.

Life never goes as planned. For us type-A planners, that’s a tough lesson to learn. I usually get through this by praying and understanding that no matter what, God is in control. You may do the same, or just create a more positive outlook around change. Look for the pros in every situation, not just the cons.

8. Get some ME time.

There is no shame in doing something for yourself every now and then. It doesn’t matter what you do, whether you’re a career person or spend your time at home raising kids, you need personal relaxation time. I used to feel guilty when our families would come into town and offer to take care of Carli so I could get things done. Even…gasp!…leave the house by myself!! Now I’m all for it. Accept help graciously and shamelessly where and when you need it and get some time to pamper yourself. You deserve it.

9. Deep breathing.

Deep breathing increases oxygen supply to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to promote a state of calmness. Engaging in deep breathing techniques can help to relieve tension and can make you feel more relaxed. Find out how to correctly do breathing exercises here.

10. Manage your time- it’s okay to schedule in some relaxing time!

When we live in a world this busy, sometimes to keep our sanity everything has to be scheduled. Try to schedule in relaxing time for yourself. Try to find a time during the day when the whole family can be together to talk about the events of the day and just unwind. Dinner is usually a good time for this. This is important. Remember, if your schedule doesn’t allow for any sort of down time throughout the week you may want to consider cutting back on commitments.

Now take a deep breath…and have a nice relaxing rest of the summer!

Yes you CAN make a satisfying meal out of salads!

I LOVE eating salads. I’ve been eating them for lunch most days of the week as far back as I can remember. A lot may think that it’s hard to fill up on a salad or that it’s just rabbit food. Not my salads! They’re filling, full of healthy fat, protein and color. My salads have evolved quite a bit over the years and I never get tired of them. When I’m marathon training like I am now I try to get more carbohydrate in my lunches so I’ll usually add fruit (either to the salad or on the side) and eat more pasta salad. I also love homemade sweet potato fries, and I’ll eat these with my salad to add some additional carbohydrate. See my sweet potato fry recipe here.

Here are a few of my favorite salad recipes that are delicious and filling enough to get you through the afternoon without feeling the need to reach for that candy bar or bag of chips.

Strawberry Chicken and Avocado Salad

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For the salad:

  • Shredded chicken (Rotisserie chicken makes it easy and reduces prep time, or you can cook a chicken breast the night before, shred it and put it in the fridge until you’re ready to make your salad).
  • 1/4 avocado, sliced
  • 1 tbsp walnuts (for a vegetarian option leave the chicken out and add more walnuts)
  • 1 oz feta cheese
  • handful of sliced strawberries
  • 2 cups salad greens (I use spring mix or spinach. The darker the greens the more nutrient dense your salad will be.)
  • sprinkle of chia seeds

For the dressing:

  • 1/2 tbsp golden balsamic vinegar
  • 1.5 tbsp olive oil

Mix dressing ingredients together and pour over salad and toppings. I eat this a lot over the summertime. It pairs well with berry infused water. So refreshing!

Hummus bowl

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I have told friends that one of my favorite salad dressings is hummus. They thought it was weird and couldn’t quite picture how that would work. I promise you, it’s amazing. You don’t need a lot of hummus to cover the salad and it’s much healthier than ranch or 1000 island dressing.

For the salad:

  • 2 cups spinach
  • sliced red onion (as much as you like)
  • 5-6 grape tomatoes
  • shredded chicken
  • cucumber slices (not pictured in the above photo but I like to add these as well)

For the dressing

  • 2 tbsp hummus
  • lemon juice

First I wet the spinach and all the ingredients with a little bit of lemon juice. Then I mix in the hummus. Another favorite for a hot summer day, this salad is light yet filling. Tastes great with lemon infused water.

Taco Salad

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Not your traditional taco salad. No fried tortilla shell or massive amounts of cheese here! But I assure you it’s more flavorful and just as satisfying. I used to put my taco salad ingredients on top of shredded iceberg lettuce but lately I’ve started using spring mix greens. They add some better flavor and of course more nutrients because of their darker color.

Ingredients:

  • Meat- You can do whatever you want here. I vary this ingredient with ground grass-fed beef, shredded chicken, grilled shrimp or veggie burger crumbles (pictured here). Another vegetarian option would be to use black beans for your protein
  • 1/4 avocado, sliced
  • shredded carrots
  • diced tomato
  • sauteed mushrooms, red bell pepper and green bell pepper

Place the cooked meat, avocado, shredded carrots and diced tomato on top of your greens. I like to saute a handful of mushrooms, red and green bell pepper together and add these on top. I don’t add dressing, instead I mash the avocado up to use as a dressing. If you want to add some guacamole to the salad you can to dress it up a little more. Salsa is a good dressing as well. I eat my taco salad with a few tortilla chips and lemon-lime infused water.

Bow tie pasta salad

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Some weeks I will make a big batch of pasta salad on the weekend and eat it throughout the week. It makes the prep work much easier, all I have to do is scoop my chilled pasta salad onto a bed of greens.

Ingredients (this makes about 5-8 servings):

  • 1 cup cooked bow tie pasta
  • 1 crown of broccoli, chopped
  • 1/3 red onion, chopped
  • 1 summer squash, sliced
  • 1 zucchini, sliced
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 2 roasted red peppers
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese
  • 1 bunch minced parsley
  • If desired, shredded chicken (about 1 cup)

Dressing:

  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp minced garlic

Cook pasta and drain. Mix with the remaining ingredients. Mix together dressing ingredients and pour over salad. Eat alone or on top of spring mix greens. Pairs nicely with cucumber and mint infused water.

Another pasta salad recipe I love is an Italian chicken pasta salad recipe a friend shared with me. This is another one I like to make and store in the fridge for a quick and easy lunch. See it here.

I also have a lot more fun salad recipes on my Pinterest page.