Monday, December 18, 2017

Healthy Holiday Tips

Holidays are usually full of people, sounds, smells, and lots of expectation.
Having a healthy holiday for me means coming out the other side refreshed
and reflective. But let’s face it, being parents during the holidays is like going
on “vacation” with the kids, the expectation is actually exhaustion and stress.
It’s a shame really, and this year I’m fighting the inevitable with some mental,
spiritual, and physical holiday health tips.

1.Don’t try to lose weight during the holidays. It’s like going to a wake and
trying to stay sober. It isn’t that you can’t do it, but I’m 99% sure you can’t do it.
Just aim not to gain.

2. Eat lots of healthy “fillers” before the main course. Fillers are foods high in fiber.
Lucky for us, collard greens, mustard greens, kale and a host of other dark leafy
greens are still growing as we speak. Eat your colorful salads and fresh veggies
without the dips and sauces, to leave less room for the higher calorie
(unnecessary energy) foods.

3. Limit your beverages. Especially with alcohol, drinks hide a host of calories
and fail to fill. Choose water or tea now and then.

4. Have one, not three. ‘Nuff said.

5. Plan to indulge. Don’t let holiday treats sneak up on you. There will be treats at
Mom’s house, treats at the office, treats at the holiday parties, not to mention the
treats you bring into the house. Choose a few place you plan to indulge and plan
on healthy choices at the other events.

6. When in doubt, less bread, more vegetables, less salt, more spices.

7. Eat hearty meals and avoid snacking.

8. Eat a fine breakfast.

9. Shop in the early morning with your whole brain. Stock your fridge and pantry
with healthy, delicious options like sweet fruits, cheesy eggs, and toastable,
crunchy whole grains and nuts.

10. Eat before you depart. Headed out for some holiday merry-making?
Eat a healthy snack before you go to avoid noisy, distracted overeating.

11. Start your day out with a large glass of clean, cool water, and carry your water
bottle with you when you leave the house. Aim for ½ to a gallon of water, daily.
Your body will thank you.

12. Remember, it takes 3500 extra calories to gain one pound. Before you think
that sounds like a lot of calories and breath a sigh of relief, let me also remind you
how easy it is to reach that number (especially in the sugary, buttery, saucy holiday
throes) so you can plan accordingly. Keep in mind that these numbers are for single
6 oz. red wine- 145 kcal
Bottle of beer- 154 kcal
Piece of pizza- 285 kcal
Piece of pumpkin pie- 323 kcal
Gingerbread cookie- 101 kcal
Brownie- 132 kcal
One cup of mashed potatoes- 214 kcal

No need to obsess, but take responsibility for what you are eating, even
during the holidays. If you don’t know the energy value of your meals, find out.
It’s never been easier to educate yourself.

13. Buffet? Choose a small plate.

14. Choose hot beverages that take time to finish.

15. Eat mindfully, using all of your senses.

16. Pay careful attention to the feeling of fullness.

17. Pause before eating to take a deep breath and give thanks. Food is a gift.

18. Don’t multitask during meals. Eating is important and should have your full attention and intention to be enjoyed with people who are important to you.

19. Ditch distracting and detracting technology, especially during meals.

20. Consider early to bed and early to rise. This is the best way to get in personal time during the busyness of holidaying.

21. Say “no” to some invitations and events in favor of important family or personal time.

22. Add relaxing things to your “to-do” list. Purposefully do less (“have a cup of hot tea and contemplate the coming months”).

23. Reset for the new year. Set your sights ahead.

24. Underschedule yourself.

25. Schedule in special one-on-one time with each of your kids.

26. Schedule your workouts.

27. Walk, hike, and play active games with family and friends every day.

28. Get outside every day.

29. Try to rise before the sun every day and catch the first rays.

30. Laugh it up. Watch funny movies, play funny games. Laughter is one of the best stress-relievers out there, it’s free, and anyone can do it.

31. Smell citrusy smells. Enhance your mood and manage stress by diffusing essential oils in your home.

32. Don’t shoot for perfection, shoot for simplicity.

33. Turn up the tunes. Listen to an array of music. Music that makes you dance, relax, and sing.

34. Get intimate. Reconnect with your spouse by scheduling (if necessary) special time. This is also a great stress reliever and a wonderful way to start out the new year. Most people don’t think of sex this way, but a solid marriage bond is one of the best things you can do for your kids.

35. Don’t try to please everyone. There are some people in your life who are priorities, and you are duty-bound to serve them first. Don’t fuss over the others.

36. Forget the negatives of the past.

37. Don’t over-think it.

Parents, I know it feels necessary for survival sometimes, but try to turn off the
autopilot and be present and in the moment this season. Not only will you be
opening yourself to forging stronger bonds with your family, but you will recenter

The goal this season is to enter and exit with our mind’s eye wide open. Insist on
personal time to seek silence and prayer. Pray for your children, pray for your
spouse, pray for the world (Divine Mercy Chaplet). Don’t underestimate the
importance of your own mental and spiritual health.
Give your best self to your family this year.

Mother and Child Photo by on Unsplash
Toast and Tea Photo by Brenda Godinez on Unsplash 
Rosary Photo by Fischer Twins on Unsplash
CitrusPhoto by Israel Egío on Unsplash 
Christmas Coffee Photo by Mira Bozhko on Unsplash

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Diet No One Wants to Hear About

I’ve started and stopped this post several times. The truth is, I don’t like talking about food and telling other people what I think they should eat. Its personal, and I am not a nutritionist. What you eat and how much and why is a big part of your own journey. What serves you may not serve others in the same way.

Folks trying to lose fat, build muscle, or conquer some new feat don’t really want to hear that. I don’t want to hear that. I’d rather there be a clear answer to my important question, darnit. But before we move on, dissatisfied, let's find out if there are any hard and fast nutrition facts for the masses; truths that we can stand on as we explore, experiment, and experience food to find out what works best for us.

Nutrition and Exercise:

The quality of your nutrition greatly affects the quality of your workouts and the quality of your results. Eat like garbage, feel like garbage, look like garbage. Quality matters.

However, the importance of food quantity, timing, and balance depends on what you want to achieve. If you you’re trying to build muscle, you’ll need a heck of a lot more protein than an ultra marathoner. Conversely, that runner is going to put away a lot more vital energy in the form of carbohydrates than say, a bodybuilder or your average mom lifting weights in the backyard.


We all know that protein aids in building and rebuilding muscle fibers. In the same way it makes repairs to damaged muscles following strenuous exercise so the muscle can come back stronger. We won’t go into the many health benefits of building muscle, but just know that, no matter what your goals may be, your body absolutely needs quality proteins for optimal performance.

Good (lean) protein choices:
Plain Greek yogurt
Swiss cheese
Eggs (duh)
Organic milk (if you must)
Steak (top or round)
Pork Chops
Chicken breast
Green pease
Quinoa (“keen-wah” incase you didn’t know)

Protein is slow to digest. Planning your diet to be 30%-40% lean protein will keep you feeling fuller longer.


Carbs are you friend, and don’t you forget it. Carbohydrates provide you with energy. Simply put, your incredibly intelligent body is adaptive. If you over-supply your body with energy, like a good steward, if will store the surplus for another time. Surplus energy is stored in the body as adipose tissue, which we oddly call “fat”.

Once again, if you aren’t consuming energy according to your own goals, it is very easy to over-consume fast digesting food sources like starches and sugars. Most of us can’t eat like elite athletes and expect to thrive. I don’t like running numbers every time I set table, so I don't. Food is much more than numbers. It is sensation and fellowship. It is life.

Your brain needs the carbohydrates, your hormones need carbohydrates, as do your muscles and blood. Hard and fast now, don't over consume energy (calories) that your body isn't utilizing. Serving sizes are key if you’ve no desire to weigh your food.

Quality Carbs:
Whole grains (cereals, breads)
Brown rice

Poor Quality Carbs (in case you need to know):
Fried foods
Table sugar
White bread/rice/pasta
Fast food
Cake, cookies, muffins, candy
Ice cream

Poor quality carbohydrates give a short burst of energy (too much, unless we are running sprints for a few miles) with ZERO nutritional value you body can use. When we are stressed (including hunger, boredom, loneliness, and exhaustion) we can experience cravings for carbohydrates that are rarely the healthy fiber-packed ones. This is the brain begging for immediate stress-relief, a “pick-me-up”, or comfort, if you will. When we eat high-sugar foods the area of the brain that processes pleasure is activated and says, “lets do that again sometime!” Enjoy the holidays, and family meals, and the occasional treat. But be aware that you are shaking that part of your brain awake, and if you continue to indulge, cravings may make overconsumption of sugary, starchy foods a tough habit to break.

A Word on Food Preparation

Generally, the more work you need to do to get food on the table, the healthier the choice. Sorry, that is just the way it is. Do the work, as it is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle, and you’ll learn to love the process. It actually represents what matters the most and serves to remind you that you are a part of nature, not a separate, lofty “other” that needs strangers to chop and bag your vegetables for you. If you’re too busy to make food for yourself and your family, you’re probably too busy. That may even be why you are looking to make changes in your life. Truth be told, I make bread for dinners and buy bread for lunches. It’s all about balance. No one can tell you what works best for your family. But, the facts do remain; healthy food takes time to prepare.

Macronutrient Fat:

You need healthy fats in your diet like a squeaky hinge needs oil. Good, healthy fats are essential for hormone balance, cell protection, nutrient delivery, brain function, and to keep your immune system humming.

The reason why fat is so misunderstood is because gram for gram, fat provides twice the amount of calories (energy) as protein or carbohydrates, so it is easy to overconsume. Stick to your serving sizes, even with peanut butter (I know).


Dark chocolate (if you must, above 65% cocoa)
Cheese (I must)
Olive oil
Coconut oil

Research on the harm caused by consuming trans fats and saturated fats (butter, *sigh*) is controversial and speculative at best. It comes down to moderation and nutrients and energy balance. Balance is difficult and requires hard work. Counterintuitively, taking the extreme route when it comes to your diet is the easy route.

But, it is best to avoid “empty calories” that offer nothing to your body but something extra to store and stress your immune system out.

Empty Crap:
All fried foods (including donuts (*sob*)
Baked, high-fat desserts (pastries, cookies, etc.)
Processed snack food (crackers, chips, pretzels)

I am not interested in telling people how to eat. If you truly want to meet your health and fitness goals, you will strive to eat food that is close to its original form, drink clean water, and balance your diet. Read labels, know what you’re eating, and take responsibility for what you consume. Balance, moderation, self-control, enjoying food, giving thanks, and making food to share with others is the diet no one really wants. Without practice and tradition, in this fast-paced, modern world, balance and peace at your table is actually difficult to achieve.

In this age of information it has never been easier to find what works for you, but you have to be bold. You have to look for underlying truths about what humans are here to do and what your own priorities are. I can tell you right now, obsessing over food is no one’s calling. Keep food where it belongs in your life: a blessing given to serve you, and a way to bless others.

Breakfast Photo by Anthony DELANOIX on Unsplash
Burger Photo by Yanko Peyankov on Unsplash
Eggs Photo by Eaters Collective on Unsplash

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Problem with Self-Esteem

As a traditionalist and somewhat of a cynic, I have been confused by and questioned the whole modern idea of self-esteem.

The truth is, even within the scientific community, the notion of self-esteem seems ambiguous. What does it mean? Put simply, self-esteem is another term for self-respect, confidence, and even dignity. Assertiveness training is a term I ran into while researching self-esteem. Being assertive means you’re willing to stand up and be counted, not that you insist on being the first in line.

Having a strong sense of self means you are willing to accept the risk of expressing yourself and humbly, even calmly, standing by your word, your opinions, and your principles.
It seems that to have healthy self-esteem, one first needs a sturdy belief system. You can’t defend your principles and standards if you don’t have any.

Those who report a healthy self-respect tend to benefit from happier, stronger relationships and  enjoy more promotions and commendations at work. One of the benefits of building self-confidence is the demand it places on others to respect you. Others tend to treat you with dignity if you are seen to defend your own dignity first. Standing to defend your own values requires specific standards of good, better, and best, because only with a strong sense of good can you recognize wrong and develop a sense of honor, duty, and sacrifice. Having a grounded sense of who you are and what is expected of you provides a steady supply of endurance in hardship and through difficult times.

Failing to stand up for yourself and your beliefs can leave you with a sense of loss that can make you even less assertive in the future. Those with low self-respect tend to lose hope easily, give up easily, have overwhelming fear of failure, experience a great deal of tension and anxiety, and are highly defensive when critiqued or receive negative feedback.

Many experts suggest building self-esteem through changing the inner-voice, the one that tells you unhelpful, over-critical, arbitrary things that cut into your courage, confidence, and self-care. I find, though, that repeating mantras and saying nice things to yourself is barely even a bandaid to the deep issues that poor self-respect comes from.

There seem to be two genuine causes for poor self-esteem.

The first one is unconditional love or mother-love, basic trust, as psychologists call it. Unfortunately, this primal love can’t be replicated by teachers and caregivers, as hard as many noble teachers try. Teachers teach, support, demand, guide, and reprimand, but they cannot provide that first and foundational building block of basic trust that every child requires from their parents. Parents that fail to build a sturdy structure of family culture which a child relies on during childhood, and carries with him when he leaves, starts their adolescents out in life with far more questions than answers. “Where do I stand? Why am I here? What am I supposed to do? Does it matter that people don’t like me?” These are good questions, but if you don’t trust where you came from, it’s much more difficult to find your purpose and your value.
It is essential that parents work to provide unchanging structure at home. Kids rarely like it while growing up, but they will use it and it will become a guide to them as they find their way. They won’t need to start from scratch and walk blindly through their teens and twenties and beyond wondering if right and wrong have changed. They won’t follow friends off of a cliff, so to speak, because their parents have given them roots.

The second cause of poor self-esteem is lack of real accomplishment. I can tell you right now, my opinions on this may not be popular. I believe the prevalent idea of everyone winning is destroying children's (and therefore adults) sense of self. It is wrecking our basic construct of justice that begins at nine months old when we first recognize ourselves in a mirror. The next step after our first step is a strong sense of justice. “Thats mine!” Of course, for a toddler, the senses may be off a bit because not everything you like is “yours”, and there are other important rules to learn like kindness and courtesy. However, when children are given medals which they did not earn, it is teaching them that they don’t have to excel, they needn’t even work hard, to be rewarded. This is actually a lie and results in a type of environment which is a lethal and fragile combination of arrogance and ignorance. There is no excellence to be found within this unjust system. Children do not grow respect for their leaders in this atmosphere of arbitrary good feelings and injustice. Children have a natural sense of justice, and being raised in schools, homes and, increasingly, workplaces, where the feelings of the individual are paramount, the world turns inside out.

In athletics the good of the team is number one. Essentially, everyone together is number one. Those who underperform are putting the team at risk, and should either be benched or removed from the the team. This individual has a choice. They can quit trying or they can work harder. It may not be the sport for them. No harm in a child trying different things until they find something that they like.

In a family, and marriage, the unity comes first. This requires each member to lay aside their own desires for the good of the family or the union. It is the only way to win at sports, marriage, and life. Self-sacrifice. The most confidence-building thing in my life has been my husband’s unwavering, unchanging devotion to our family. He gives his all for us, and it makes me want to give all for us too. He puts me before him, and us before me, as it should be. It keeps me standing up day after day. Today, happiness has trumped holiness, and therein lies the heart of the issue. People can’t move as one and achieve great things because they seek first their own happiness. After all, that is what they were taught by receiving a last place medal.

Since we can’t go back to childhood, choose our parents, and change the way we were raised, how can we start from where we are now and build a stronger sense of self?

  1. Acknowledge your flaws. Sorry, no one is “enough”. We need to change. We need to improve, we need to love more, give more, sacrifice more for the family and stranger, alike.
  2. For those of us that only see flaws, acknowledge your strengths. The inner-voice of low self-esteem is notoriously negative, and most often a big fat liar. Identify the truths and the lies. Talk to a counselor if you can’t find your way alone through the unreasonable, unuseful, dishonest self-talk. Find the true achievements you’ve made in your life and allow yourself to celebrate them.
  3. Stay humble. Remember that true, humble, honest self-worth is never built on something which itself is flawed and weak, like another person’s good opinion. What others think will always be important to us, on some level, and that shouldn’t be denied. Pleasing others plays a part in the maintenance of peace. But your personal value was built in by a passionate creator and your purpose fixed with perfection. Perfection exists only in the Person of Jesus Christ, and he is the perfect and essential standard. Attempting to build a healthy self-esteem outside of the context of God’s perfect order leads to a fragile ego, or worse, selfishness and self-obsession.  
  4. Serve others. Many people who do not know God find peace, purpose, and a healthy sense of fulfillment within His perfect order by serving others and purposefully sacrificing for the good of others.
  5. Everything isn’t your fault. Stop taking responsibility for other people's mistakes. (Moms, ehem). This practice causes more harm than good to these people and yourself. Allow others to carry their own burdens. As lifters can tell you, it’s only through increasing weight-loads that we get stronger. I know it’s difficult, but it’s okay for your children to hurt, feel rejected, lose, and fail. They become stronger, and so do you. Be there to comfort and support and love them, don’t be the crutch that they use to keep themselves from true healthy growth and achievement. This only perpetuates the cycle of damaging self-esteem.
  6. Don’t let your failures define you. Get to the heart of the issues that keep you from success. Actually say, “My failures will not define me.” Ask for forgiveness and boldly stand upon your missteps to get closer to the person you are working to become.
  7. Fearlessly let go of all the things that you’ve not been given to control. Focus completely on the trials and challenges that are yours.
  8. Set realistic goals. Nothing is more deflating than trying and failing again and again because your goals were unrealistic. You then blast yourself with a barrage of self-loathing and name-calling for failing again, where, in reality, all you need is better goal-setting skills. Goal Setting
  9. Find out what you believe. So many people don’t know what they believe concerning God and the spiritual reality. As a result of this distracted indecision, as many don’t realize, they are set adrift on a sea of reaction and frustration, tethered to nothing, and trodden on by circumstance and stronger personalities. They can’t be certain, can’t tell right from wrong, only repeat things they’ve heard others say, develop fear of the unknown, fear of confrontation, and even fear of quality conversation. Never stop seeking truth. It is first and foremost the way to “know thyself.”
  10. Love your family unconditionally. Especially if you’ve had a difficult childhood, stop the cycle of turbulence and anger in your family. Work to create a solid haven for your children. Equip them with beautiful and strong traditions that they can turn to and stand upon when they need guidance in their own lives.
  11. Get strong. Begin habits in your life that bring real achievement and a strong sense of accomplishment. Every time you workout you’ve one more small victory. These add up and result in building your self-esteem. A strong body gives a strong mind momentum. It encourages boldness, courage, and a belief in your own capabilities. Essentially, getting progressively, physically stronger tells you, without a doubt, that you have been given power, choice, and ability to make real, effective, lasting changes in yourself and the world around you. Fitness is the best way to discover what difficult and amazing things you are capable of. A fitness habit builds within ourselves and within our children strong character, mental endurance and fortitude, self-control, and self-mastery. There are no better, accessible tools for building strong self-esteem.

The best thing we can do for ourselves and our kids is to develop habits that support a strong and real sense of self and purpose. Knowledge of self-worth has its primal roots in familial and societal units. God speaks to us through the order of these units. They are for us. Find ways to build your home-life into a place of certainty, order, and solid traditions. The foundation of self-esteem lies in knowing where you come from and where you are going. True self-esteem is in part earned and in part instilled in you from a young age.

As an adult, focus on moving forward, one step at a time, toward the things you want to achieve. Experiment, take chances, practice gratitude, healthy habits, and help others along the way.