Creating Healthy Sleep Habits

Hello!
I wanted to share a few tidbits about establishing healthy sleep habits both to fall asleep, and stay asleep each night. We all know how important sleep is to our overall health and well-being. Enjoy!

Why is sleep so important?

Sleep is incredibly important for body restoration. In adults, muscle growth, protein synthesis, tissue and cell repair all occur during sleep. Hormone production and brain development occur during sleep in infants and children.

One under-presented restorative function of sleep has to do with a neurotransmitter called adenosine. While we’re awake, our neurons fire and cells power us through the day, this process produces adenosine. It builds up throughout the day, leading to a decrease in dopamine. Dopamine helps to keep us alert and focused. So as adenosine levels increase, circulating dopamine levels decrease. This results in you getting sleepy at nighttime. While we sleep, we clear adenosine from the body and start fresh in the morning feeling alert. The more sleep you get, the lower the level of adenosine, and the more alert you’ll feel in the morning. Cool, right?

How many hours should I sleep each night?

The number of hours you should sleep depends on your age, gender, lifestyle, current health, and simply how you feel after a night of sleep. It’s different for everyone, but usually between 7 to 9 hours is what adults should shoot for. The best way to judge if you are getting enough sleep is to pay attention to your energy level throughout the day. If you are sleeping enough and still feel tired or lethargic throughout the day, it’s time to look at your diet or adrenal function.

When it comes to the timing of your night-time snooze, the most restorative window is typically between 11pm and 7am because your circadian rhythm is likely at its lowest point. Your circadian rhythm is influenced by your environment ie: light and dark levels throughout the day. Circadian rhythm controls many of the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that you experience in a 24-hour cycle, including your sleep pattern. Paying attention to your circadian rhythm and going to sleep when you feel drowsy will help you to drop into deep, restorative sleep more rapidly.

How Can I Improve My Sleep Cycle?

  • Your bedroom should be completely dark. This will also increase your natural production of melatonin, which helps us stay asleep. You could also try a sleep mask if a completely dark bedroom is not possible.
  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule (even on the weekend). Having a set bedtime as well as a set wake-up time each morning will help you to fall asleep more easily and stay asleep through the night.
  • Make sure that you bedroom is a cozy, relaxing environment. A high-quality mattress, cozy blankets and cool temperature will help to reduce distractions and help you relax as you drift off to sleep.
  • Try some relaxing essential oils! Lavender is one of our favorites. It may even help you hit deep sleep sooner.
    Turn off tech at least 1 hour before going to bed. This includes computers, phones, television etc. Then, dim the lights and read or meditate to let your body naturally produce melatonin, which is a hormone that we naturally produce when it gets dark out and helps to regulate our sleep/wake cycle.
  • Skip caffeine if possible. Caffeine is a stimulant. That being said, I live for my cup of java in the morning! That said, it is healthy to encourage the body to regulate energy levels without the aid of stimulants or depressants. Try to stop after your morning cup. 🙂
  • Cut back on the alcohol. Now, I do enjoy the occasional glass of red wine, but cap it off at 2 glasses. With any more than that, I find that I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep! Added empty calories aside, I would rather sleep well than have that extra glass of wine. Hands down. Anyone else have this effect?
  • Exercise! Try to fit in at least 20-30 min of moderate exercise everyday. Make sure to do it several hours before bed because exercise is energizing! A great option would be to get your cardio and/or strength training done in the morning and and then add a restorative yoga session later in the afternoon.
  • Clear your mind. We’ve all been there…you lay down in bed and your mind starts to spin. Maybe you’re continuing to try and solve all of the day’s problems, or you are nervously thinking about your to-do list. If you’re tossing and turning after switching the lights off, you may need to hit the reset button on your mind. Here are a few things to try. Before going to bed, journal. Writing down your worries or stressors can help you to get them out of your mind and stop the brain-spin. You could also try a meditation. If you can’t fall asleep after lying in bed for 15 minutes, get up and do something that you find relaxing for a few minutes before returning to bed.

I Fall Asleep, But Then Wake Up With Insomnia

Emotional issues such as stress, anxiety, and depression cause about half of all insomnia cases. But your daytime habits, bedtime routine, and physical health can also play a major role. Insomnia can last for a few days or can become a chronic problem with an underlying psychological or medical issue.

  • Anxiety and depression are two of the most common causes of chronic insomnia.
  • Stress, anger, worry, grief, bipolar disorder, and trauma can also be trigger insomnia.
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications can often affect sleep cycle as well. If you are struggling with chronic insomnia, take inventory and if possible, cut out these medications.

Mindfulness Exercises

What is Mindfulness?

Hello all! This week, I wanted to discuss mindfulness and give you a few different exercises to try. I know that I always appreciate a little reminder to remain in the present. 🙂

Mindfulness is defined by Psychology Today as “a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.” In our culture, we are exposed to high-stress situations on a regular basis, remembering to be mindful, or to “see the bigger picture” can be hugely helpful in reducing stress and cortisol levels. Practicing mindfulness can also be helpful in combating anxiety.

How do I practice mindfulness?

Meditation
I’m sure that the first thing that comes to mind when discussing mindfulness is meditation. This is a great option. There are a wide variety of meditation techniques that you can try, but if you are new to meditation, I recommend starting simply. Set a timer for 5 minutes. Sit in a comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed. Close your eyes and notice your breathing pattern. Feel free to experiment with different mantras until you find one that is a good fit for you. If that seems intimidating, start with stating “this breath in” with each inhalation, and “this breath out” with each exhale. When the timer goes off, you’re done! You could try this in the morning, at the beginning of your lunch break, or before you go to bed in the evening.

meditation

Body Scan

Another option would be to take a body scan. This can be practiced in a variety of forms none of which are incorrect. Here is an option of how to start: Lie down on your back. Close you eyes and start with noticing any sensations in the crown of your head. Move down through the body slowly and deliberately, noticing any sensations without judgement in your face, shoulders, chest, upper arms, belly, hips, legs and feet. There is no time limit or requirement for this exercise, but if you would like to set a timer for yourself, you are more than welcome to do so.

Minute of Appreciation
This is one of our favorite exercises, and you can do it anywhere! For roughly one minute (or as long as you need), think of all of the things that you are grateful for in your life. This exercise can be especially beneficial on days when things are not going your way. We also like this practice when struggling with sleep issues. There is always something to be grateful for even if it seems minuscule.

You could also practice Pilates of Yoga as an act of mindfulness. Explore and find which methods work best for you. Enjoy!

xxx Lara

Healthy Travel Tips

Hello All!

I wanted to share some of my favorite tips for maintaining healthy habits while traveling!

First of all, you can find healthy snacks in airports, but they are always overpriced, and often don’t taste as fresh as I would like. I love to pack a bag of mixed nuts and dried fruits to get me through a flight. I usually toss an apple or orange in my carry-on as well. 🙂

Second, drink lots of water! I know that it can be tempting to have a cocktail on the flight, but the air is already so dry on the airplane. Drink water! I always travel with a large water bottle as well.

Third, airplane seat pockets, arm rests, and tray tables are super dirty! I always travel with antibacterial wipes and wipe down my space when I sit down. I may look a little kooky, but that’s better than getting sick! 🙂

Next, throw a theraband in your bag for hotel workouts! A theraband takes very little space in your bag and can be used for lots or arm, booty, and hip exercises. You can also watch TORCH videos on our YouTube page for quick Pilates/HIIT workouts that don’t require any equipment! Perfect for the hotel room!

Bring an eye mask (or large pashmina scarf) and ear plugs so that you can sleep on your flight. I have forgotten my scarf before and super regretted it!

If you are on a long flight, make sure that you stand up and walk around regularly. I will also stretch during the flight. This helps with circulation and prevents blood clots from forming in your legs.

Until next time!

xo Lara

PS: I would love to connect on Instagram! @torchpilates

Immunity Boosting Recipes for Winter

Hello All!

I hope that you are all having a great week! I wanted to share a few new recipes that are great for boosting the immune system. It is that time of year when we need to do all that we can to give our immune systems a little help. 🙂 These are all paleo recipes. I don’t follow a paleo diet (I find that too many rules make me a little crazy), but all of these ingredients sounded delicious and super cozy for cold weather. Enjoy!

First of all, what vitamins and minerals are helpful for immune system support?

Vitamin C: Yellow bell peppers, broccoli, kale, and oranges are all high in vitamin C.
Zinc: Oysters, beef, lamb, pork, and pumpkin seeds are great sources of Zinc.
Vitamin D: Cod liver oil, Fatty fish (trout, salmon, mackerel), mushrooms, pork, eggs
Vitamin A: turkey and beef liver, cod liver oil, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots
Probiotics: I like to eat kimchi or different varieties of sauerkraut for probiotics. You can rotate different kinds for different strains of probiotics for a happy, healthy gut. 🙂
Garlic has also been found to have immune-boosting effects

Here are a few delicious recipes incorporating these ingredients:

I found this recipe on one of our favorite Paleo blogs, paleomg.com. This is a Denver-based blog that is packed full of delicious paleo recipes.

Beef Bulgogi “Rice” Bowls

Prep time: 8 hours (marinating beef)
Cook time: 30 mins
Total time: 8 hours 30 mins

Serves: 3-4
Ingredients
For the bulgogi

  • ¼ cup coconut aminos
  • 3 tablespoons freshly minced ginger
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • ½ pear, grated
  • 1 tablespoon coconut vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • pinch of salt
  • 1½ pounds flank or hanger steak, thinly sliced against the grain

For the spicy pickled cucumbers

  • 1 cucumber, sliced very thin with mandolin
  • 2 tablespoons coconut vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon chili sauce or sriracha
  • pinch of salt

For the rice bowls

  • 1 batch of cauliflower rice
  • 3-4 eggs
  • black sesame seeds, to garnish
  • green onions, sliced, to garnish
  • sriracha mayo: ½ cup paleo mayo + 2 tablespoons chili sauce or sriracha

Instructions

  1. Mix together all ingredients for the bulgogi and place marinade in a shallow dish. Add the thinly sliced beef, cover and place in the fridge overnight or at least for 4 hours.
  2. Remove beef from fridge 30 minutes before cooking. While the beef comes up in temperature, place cucumber along with the rest of the pickle liquid in a jar, shake, then place in the fridge for about 1 hour.
  3. Place a large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of ghee or coconut oil then remove then beef from the marinade and cook beef in a single layer, sprinkle with salt and once browned and slightly crispy, cook on other side. About 2 minutes per side. Continue until all beef is cooked.
  4. While beef is cooking, make cauliflower rice.
  5. Lastly, place a small skillet over low heat, add 1 tablespoon of ghee or coconut oil, and crack each egg into the pan. Cook low and slow until white are cooked through but yolks are still runny.
  6. Make each bowl: cauliflower rice, beef bulgogi, egg, pickled cucumbers, sriracha mayo, green onions and sesame seeds.

Short on time? Try this Pan-Fried Salmon with Leek and Mushrooms recipe that I found on blog.paleohacks.com.

Pan-Fried Salmon with Leek & Mushroom

Prep Time:3 minutes
Cook Time:5 minutes
Yield:2

Ingredients:

  • 2 salmon fillets
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons pine-nuts
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small leek, finely sliced
  • 10 button mushrooms, sliced
  • ground black pepper

Directions:

  • Heat the olive oil in a frying pan on medium heat and add the salmon fillets. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until browned, then turn and cook for a further 1-2 minutes or until cooked to your liking.
  • To make the leek and mushrooms, heat the olive oil in a separate frying pan on low-medium heat. Add the leek and fry until they begin to soften, then add the mushrooms and cook, stirring for 3-4 minutes or until the mushrooms have warmed through. Season with pepper.
  • Place the leek and mushrooms on a plate and top with a salmon fillet, sprinkle with pine-nuts to serve.

I found this delicious recipe at www.thepaleosecret.com. Delicious!

Acorn Squash with Ground Lamb and Kale

Ingredients

  • 2 acorn squash halved and seeds removed (cut ends off both sides so they sit on a flat surface)
  • 1 to 1 ½ lbs of ground lamb
  • 2 bunches of kale (washed, de-stemmed and chopped)
  • 2 large onions (chopped)
  • salt and pepper
  • cumin
  • coriander
  • 4 Tbsp coconut or palm oil for cooking

Preheat oven to 400 deg. Place acorn squash halves upside down in a baking dish and fill dish with a little bit of filtered water. Bake for 40 minutes or until soft and fork goes through easily.

While squash is baking, heat oil in a large skillet and sauté onions. Add kale and cover until it cooks down. Stir frequently. Heat oil in a second skillet and brown the ground lamb. Add salt, pepper, cumin and coriander to lamb while cooking. When kale is cooked down, add ground lamb to mixture with a slotted spoon. Stir and spoon into acorn squash bowls (once the squash halves are cooked). Drizzle with olive oil and serve. If you want extra meat, add a helping of meat mixture to the side of the bowl.

Recipe by Brenda Walding, DPT, FDN

I’m sure that bone broth is a familiar recipe to all, but here is a nice recipe that I found at wellnessmama.com.

Bone Broth

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 8 hours
Total time: 8 hours 10 mins

Author: Wellness Mama
Serves: 16+
Ingredients

  • 2 pounds (or more) of bones from a healthy source
  • 2 chicken feet for extra gelatin (optional)
  • 1 onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 2 tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Optional: 1 bunch of parsley, 1 tablespoon or more of sea salt, 1 teaspoon peppercorns, additional herbs or spices to taste. I also add 2 cloves of garlic for the last 30 minutes of cooking.
  • You’ll also need a large stock pot to cook the broth in and a strainer to remove the pieces when it is done.

Instructions

  1. If you are using raw bones, especially beef bones, it improves flavor to roast them in the oven first. I place them in a roasting pan and roast for 30 minutes at 350.
  2. Then, place the bones in a large stock pot (I use a 5 gallon pot). Pour (filtered) water over the bones and add the vinegar. Let sit for 20-30 minutes in the cool water. The acid helps make the nutrients in the bones more available.
  3. Rough chop and add the vegetables (except the parsley and garlic, if using) to the pot. Add any salt, pepper, spices, or herbs, if using.
  4. Now, bring the broth to a boil. Once it has reached a vigorous boil, reduce to a simmer and simmer until done.
  5. During the first few hours of simmering, you’ll need to remove the impurities that float to the surface. A frothy/foamy layer will form and it can be easily scooped off with a big spoon. Throw this part away. I typically check it every 20 minutes for the first 2 hours to remove this. Grass-fed and healthy animals will produce much less of this than conventional animals.
  6. During the last 30 minutes, add the garlic and parsley, if using.
  7. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Strain using a fine metal strainer to remove all the bits of bone and vegetable. When cool enough, store in a gallon size glass jar in the fridge for up to 5 days, or freeze for later use.

*Fun tip: Use a pressure cooker to make your bone broth! This is a great way to extract the nutrients and minerals including calcium, phosphorous, sodium, magnesium, and other trace minerals. Also if you include the ligaments and cartilage attached to the bones, you can extract  glucosamine and chondroitin which are great for joint support. I know that’s a little gross to think about, but I am all for getting your nutrients from natural food sources if possible.

Also, check out my blog post “Love Letter to a Green Smoothie” for a great immunity boosting breakfast

I hope that you enjoy these immune boosting recipes! Please take into account any specific dietary restrictions that you may have and skip the ingredients that are inflammatory to your system. Enjoy!

xo Lara

Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Hello Beautiful Friends!

This week, I wanted to jam about inflammation for a moment. I feel that there is a bunch of information out there and I wanted to clear up a couple of things, and add my two cents. 🙂

Inflammation is the body’s totally healthy response to injury and infection. It is a way of defending ourselves by sending immune cells and key nutrients to the areas that need them most.

 
Acute Inflammation:
Acute Inflammation is a necessary component of our immune function and is also part of a built-in protection and healing process for most tissues. It has a relatively short duration and it is a part of the 
body’s defensive response to bacterial and viral infections. Basically, when we have an acute injury, our white blood cells rush to the scene causing a short-term inflammatory response to fight back against either a foreign invader (infection), or to heal a wound (broken bone or torn ligament.
Chronic Inflammation:
When our biochemistry gets out of balance, immune
 processes aren’t reined in, inflammation becomes continuous and long-
lasting. It known as “silent inflammation”
 because it does not have the same obvious characteristics as acute inflammation.
Chronic inflammation leads to the most deleterious and damaging effects on the body.

Chronic Inflammation

Causes of Chronic Inflammation:

  • Inflammatory diet
  • Obesity 
  • High stress
  • Environmental toxicity 
  • Smoking
  • Lack of exercise
  • Lack of sleep

 

Inflammatory Foods:
All artificial, processed, high sugar, and fried foods may cause inflammation in the body. Diary, gluten soy, and corn can contribute to inflammation. It is important to note that we all process foods differently. There may be some foods that you can tolerate that others aren’t able to and vice-versa. A couple of great examples of this are dairy and gluten. Some bodies are intolerant while others are able to handle cheese and bread without an issue. Regardless of how you process these foods, I do still recommend that you limit your exposure.

Below is a list of some foods that can be inflammatory triggers:
Bagels, breads, baked goods, candy, cake, cookies, sugary cereals, cornstarch, corn bread, corn muffins, high fructose corn syrup, crackers, croissants, doughnuts, egg rolls, fast food, french fries, fruit juice with added sugar, fried foods, flour, high sugar processed granola, cheese, milk, honey, hot dogs, ice cream, frozen yogurt, margarine, molasses, muffins, noodles, pancakes, pastry, pie, pita bread, pizza, pasta, popcorn, white potatoes, potato chips, pretzels, corn chips, rice and corn cakes, soda, sugar, flour tortillas, waffles.
Anti-Inflammatory Foods:

  • Tea
  • Herbs and spices- Turmeric, curry powder ginger, garlic, cilantro, basil, cinnamon, rosemary and thyme are some of my favorites
  • Cooked Mushrooms
  • Fish and Seafood (Low Mercury) –  Wild Alaskan salmon (especially sockeye), herring, sardines, and black cod (sablefish).
  • Grass-Fed Beef
  • Healthy Fats
 – Avocados, Flaxseed Oil, Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, Nuts, and Seeds
  • Vegetables
- dark leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, carrots, beets, onions, peas, squashes, and sea vegetables are a few examples. Try to include a variety of colors each day!
  • Fruits
- Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, peaches, nectarines, oranges, pink grapefruit, red grapes, plums, pomegranates, pineapple, blackberries, cherries, apples, and pears, bananas
    **Note** As a general rule, organic is best! If you are budgeting, veggies and fruits with thinner skins are more important when it comes to purchasing organic. For example, I would focus on organic apples before organic bananas and oranges. 🙂

Anti Inflammatory Lifestyle Tips:

  • Sleep at least 8 hours a night. 
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes 5 times a week.
  • Limit or avoid sugar, caffeine and alcohol.
  • Take Epsom salt baths
  • Receive massage whenever possible

Happy anti-inflammatory eating! Until next time…
Lara

Health Benefits of Saunas

Hello Gorgeous!

This week, I wanted to chat about the health benefits of saunas. Saunas are a part of many different cultures and have been around for thousands of years. Japanese, Finnish, Russian, Roman, American Indian, and Turkish cultures all have their own version of utilizing exposure to ambient heat and inducing sweat for health benefits. Sweating is an excellent way to detox and heal the body through its own natural abilities. On top of all that, they feel fantastic!

Deep sweating is an excellent tool to increase the bodies natural ability to detox. The bodies largest organ is our skin. Sweating allows us to push out toxins through the pores in our skin. A sauna session can allow you to clean your skin more thoroughly than washing the skin as we push the toxins, pollutants, and bacteria out. How cool is that!? In addition, high temperatures kill many strains of bacteria which can help to clear infected, or acne prone skin.

Sauna use can stimulate your heart rate. Spending time in a sauna can increase our heart rate, mimicking the effect of moderate exercise. Some studies have shown that regular exposure to high heat has even increased cardiovascular endurance. The increased heart rate also helps to oxygenate the blood, enhances circulation to the organs, muscle, and fat tissue which promotes healing  **Note–spending time in a sauna will not replace the bodies need for regular exercise. 🙂

Regular sauna use has been linked to a reduction in the risk of developing heart disease. What is this attributed to? In addition to the increased blood flow experienced from an increased heart rate, taking time to relax and unplug can be hugely beneficial in reducing risk of heart disease. This simple act of taking time to relax lowers stress and anxiety, and decreases blood pressure.

Some studies have found that taking a sauna at the beginning of an illness can help fight off infection. Sitting in a sauna increases the body’s core temperature which is like inducing a fever, which is our bodies first line of defense against illness. It is hard for pathogens to survive in higher temperatures.

Saunas can help to alleviate sore, tired muscles after a workout. If you take a sauna after a workout, your increased heart rate that you experience in the sauna can help to increase blood flow to repair your muscles as well as carry away the built-up lactic acid that is created in your muscles during exercise. 

Remember to stay hydrated before and after taking a sauna, as prolonged sweating can cause dehydration. Also, if you feel lightheaded or dizzy during your time in the sauna, exit immediately and re-hydrate while sitting in a cool space. Also, please note that saunas are often contraindicated during pregnancy.

I hope that you are having a happy, healthy week! 🙂 Until next time!

xo Lara

What is Adrenal Fatigue?

Hello!

This week, I wanted to talk a bit about adrenal fatigue. What is it and how do you recognize the symptoms? If you suspect that you do have adrenal fatigue syndrome, there are adrenal stress tests available to confirm. Consult your physician if you suspect that you are struggling with adrenal fatigue syndrome.

What is adrenal fatigue syndrome?
Adrenal fatigue syndrome is characterized as a group of symptoms indicating that the adrenal glands are not functioning at an optimal level. It is categorized by a disruption of your adrenal glands’ ability to create cortisol in response to stress.

Where are the adrenal glands located?
The adrenal glands are located just above each kidney. They coordinate nearly every hormone in your body.

What are possible causes of adrenal fatigue?
1) Stressful experiences such as loss of a loved one
2) Emotional Trauma
3) Lack of sleep
4) Poor diet and lack of exercise
5) Exposure to environmental toxins or pollutants
6) Prolonged stress due to financial hardship, negative home or work environment, etc.

What are possible symptoms of adrenal fatigue?

1) Feeling tired for no reason
2) Increased energy and alertness in the evening, with lethargy during the day
3) Craving sweet and salty snacks
4) Feeling overwhelmed and rundown
5) Inability to handle stressful situations
6) Trouble waking up in the morning even after a full night’s rest
7) Decreased sexual drive
8) Weight gain
9) Bone loss
10) Hair loss
11) Chronic inflammation
12) Decreased ability to focus

How to treat adrenal fatigue?
First of all, consult with your physician if you suspect that you are suffering from adrenal fatigue syndrome. There are also helpful steps that you can take:

Eat an anti-inflammatory diet that is rich in brightly colored vegetables and fruits as well as lean/clean meats (if you eat meat…if not, focus on the veggies). Your diet should include foods that are rich in B vitamins, Zinc, Vitamin D, and selenium; all of which support proper hormone function.  As a general rule, inflammatory foods include those that are deep fried, sugar-based, or carbohydrate heavy. A dinner with wild-caught salmon, broccoli, and roasted sweet potatoes would be a great option on an anti-inflammatory diet. 🙂

Avoid alcohol and coffee.

Go to bed early, and at the same time each night.

Stay hydrated.

Find activities that reduce stress. An hour of light Pilates may just be the ticket! 😉 10 minutes of meditation is clinically proven to reduce stress levels as well.

Thank you so much for stopping by! Until next time!

xo Lara

 

The Effects of Sugar on the Body

Hi All!

I hope that this doesn’t sound too preachy…You know I love a cookie now and again! This is just a little reminder

It can be easy to overindulge during the holiday season. Now that we are all getting back into a regular routine, I wanted to send out a little friendly reminder about the effects of sugar on the body and how detrimental it can be to our overall health. 

Why is sugar so illusive? When we consume sugar, for a short time we feel great! They call it a “sugar high” for a reason! Humans are programmed to enjoy the taste of sugar because it is calorically dense. Before the rise of the grocery store, energy-dense food was harder to come by, so when we found it, we were programmed to celebrate it! We used to need to literally store up our body fat for a long winter. We are now trying to outrun our primitive response to calorically dense foods!

Here is a basic view of what happens in the body when we eat sugar. When sugar-rich foods hit the stomach, they are broken down by acid and enzymes into smaller pieces. The food is then sent on to the small intestine where it is broken down further into glucose and fructose. Glucose is then sent into the blood stream and liver, spiking our blood sugar level. The pancreas is stimulated and produces insulin to ‘file away’ the glucose for later use in the liver, muscle, and fat cells. This lowers the blood sugar levels that were just raised, resulting in a feeling of lethargy, hunger, irritability, headache, fatigue, confusion, difficulty concentrating, and anxiety. No, thank you!!!

Consumption of sugar can lead to weight gain. It also wreaks havoc on our liver, impairs brain function, causes inflammation throughout the body, and confuses our metabolism. Excess sugar intake leaves us susceptible to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Our hard-working livers are responsible for many functions in the body, including extracting nutrients from foods, producing bile to help the body break down fat, filtering chemicals and toxins out of the blood, and storing glucose. When we eat sugar on a regular basis, our liver can become overloaded with glucose. When this happens, the liver has to export the glucose by storing it in other parts of the body in the form of fat. Fat can also remain in the liver. Over time, this can develop into non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

What happens to the brain when we consume sugar? When we first consume sugar, the tongue’s taste receptors are stimulated (as they are with any food that we eat) and the signals from the taste buds are sent to the brain lighting up the reward pathways and causing a surge of “happy” hormones like dopamine. We produce dopamine whenever we eat food, but more is released when we consume sugar, which is where the term ‘sugar high’ comes from. Sugar hijackes our our natural reward hormone pathways, so over time we feel that we need more sugar to recreate that hormone surge. This overexposure to sugar reduces our bodies’ ability to produce dopamine and we feel that we need more sugar to achieve that same happy feeling. This is the same reaction that our body has to drugs, and yet sugar seems so innocent! Super scary!!!

Heavy sugar intake causes a resistance to insulin (a hormone that controls blood sugar and regulates function of brain cells). Insulin strengthens the synaptic connection between brain cells. A resistance to insulin can lower levels cognition and brain function. Of course, we also know that type 2 diabetes can develop as our insulin resistance increases.

I need a little reminder now and again that food is fuel. It is so easy to get into the cycle of overindulgence. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you NEED the cookie, and that is A-ok! Just make sure that you don’t punish yourself afterwards. That sets up a negative reward cycle that is so tough to outrun. I like to follow the 90/10 rule. Eat nutrient-rich foods that are fuel for the body 90 percent of the time. For the other 10 percent of the time, allow yourself to have the treats that you love!  It’s all about balance. 🙂

I’d love to hear about how you find balance! Comment with your healthy plans/strategies below. 🙂

Until next time!

xo Lara

New Year’s Fitness Resolution Tricks!

Hello Beauties!

Happy New Year!!! I’m sure that many of you are in full swing of your new years resolution. Let’s be frank…it can be tricky to keep up these perfect resolutions as real life starts to get in the way. You know what I’m talking about! Here are a couple of tricks and tips to stay on track! 🙂

1) Aim for a “a little better” instead of “perfect”
It is so easy to fall into the trap of…well if I can’t eat perfectly today, then I’ll just count this as a “cheat” day and start tomorrow. (BTW…I HATE the term cheat day! If you set up your mindset as cheating vs not cheating, you are set up for failure. Rant complete. ;))

2) Eat breakfast with protein
Every nutritionist is going to tell you to eat breakfast. It’s the most important meal of the day! It is completely true! If I don’t start the day with a protein rich breakfast, I am inevitably starving by 10:30am and ready to run towards a quick energy lifter which is almost always something carb-heavy because your brain is ready for a serotonin bump which is easily and quickly delivered by taking in carbohydrates or sugars. Eat breakfast! Oatmeal with almond butter, apples, and cinnamon 🙂

3) Exercise whenever and wherever possible!
I completely planned to get up early to get in an extra run this morning…but the snooze button seduced me! We’ve all been there. When you miss your workout, don’t beat yourself up or say that you’ll just get back on track later. Instead, take the stairs a couple of extra times today. Need to use the restroom and you work on the 5th floor? Don’t use the restroom down the hall, go down to the first floor and take the stairs back up! Need to fit in a little ab work? Focus on tightening your abdominals in the car on the way home. At stop lights, put the car in park and use the abdominal muscles to lift your knees. Park in the back of the lot at the grocery store to get in a few extra steps. No excuses. 🙂

Come Get TORCHED!!!

New Year’s Letter To My Future Self

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Hello Beauties!

Happy New Year!!!

I wanted to share one of my favorite New Years traditions. Each year on New Year's Day, I write myself a letter that I will open on the last day of that following year.  I congratulate my future self for overcoming specific fears, or achieving career and personal goals, or for having bucket-list experiences. It is a way that I like to manifest my goals and desires for the upcoming year. A longtime client and great friend shared this exercise with me 6 years ago, and I thought that it was such a beautiful idea. I have continued the exercise each year since.

On New Years Eve, I open my letter from the previous year and see which goals I have achieved, as well as which goals I am still in the process of achieving. It is also interesting to see if there were goals that I have outgrown or no longer need. It is so exciting to open the letter and to see how I have grown or changed over the last year.

Every year, there are goals that I haven't yet accomplished...that's okay!!! It is just further motivation to prioritize those goals for the upcoming year.

Give it a try! 🙂 Set your conscious intention for the upcoming year.  Important note...tuck your letter away in a location where you will be able to find a year from now! I have had to hunt for mine in years past, and now hide it from myself in the bottom of my jewelry box. 😉

 

2016 Journal

 

I hope that you all had a great holiday season, and I wish you a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2016!

xo Lara