Sleep and Your Adrenals

The “fight or flight” syndrome – you’ve heard of it, right–it’s accompanied with adrenalfatiguethe image of the saber-toothed tiger dashing after a hunter, getting ready to attack. How often do you get into that situation? In modern times, we’re most likely not in that life-threatening situation, but our bodies are often react as if we’re fighting for our lives. Without the ability to select what is life-threatening or just a nuisance, our adrenal glands, located on top of each kidney, are forced to work overtime secreting cortisol and adrenaline in an effort to deal with stress from all sources. Whether it’s injury, disease, work, family, finances, environment, the adrenals perceive all of these as stress.

It’s hard to imagine these small endocrine glands, essentially the size of a walnut, responsible for the manufacture and secretion of the vital hormones cortisol, estrogen and testosterone. Cortisol production is crucial for the body to combat stress. Whereas thousands of years ago stress was a finite amount of time – you either outran the predator and survived or you were eaten – nowadays, stress seems to be as commonplace as the modern day computer.

Even though not getting along with a boss or missing a bill payment are not life-threatening like the saber-toothed tiger, our bodies react to these common stressors in a similar fashion. The body starts to feel unsettled, you miss sleep, overeat or become angry. More and more cortisol is produced as the body believes it’s time to outrun the tiger and needs massive amounts of energy to run for its life. When this happens over and over again throughout the day, cortisol and adrenaline are released which causes blood sugar to flood the system and more and more insulin is released causing the adrenal gland to be overtaxed. It’s a vicious cycle!

Here’s the problem: chronic stress can overload the adrenal glands to the point of exhaustion. For some, the fatigue will become overwhelming and the adrenals will no longer function properly to provide the energy and resources the body needs on a day-to-day basis. When someone is exhausted, a natural suggestion is to get more sleep. That’s not always easy with adrenal problems because insomnia can be a symptom of adrenal fatigue. There are, however, steps you can take to prepare yourself for sleep, which is certainly one of the best ways to refresh and rejuvenate your body, mind and spirit.

For better sleep and to heal your adrenal glands:

  • Go to bed at the same time every night between 10-10:30pm.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and sugar in late afternoon/evening (or remove them completely from your diet to avoid any rollercoaster-like blood sugar surges)
  • Make sure you’re eating little and often during the day to keep your blood sugar steady.
  • If you wake up in the middle of the night–especially if you wake up abruptly and with palpitations–have a small snack of complex carbohydrates such as a few whole grain crackers or a half slice of rye bread about an hour before bed.
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Have a cup of chamomile tea.
  • Try to exercise early in the day.
  • Try using aromatherapy oils such as bergamot, lavender, Roman chamomile and marjoram in a warm bath, just before bed.
  • Maintain a sleep routine.
  • An hour before bed write yourself a to-do list for the next day so you don’t end up mulling over what needs to be done.
  • Sex can help you get to sleep.
  • Try herbal supplements valerian, passionflower and skullcap.
  • Magnesium is known as “nature’ tranqualizer.”  Try using the supplement “CALM.”
  • Use visualization techniques.
  • Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or gentle or yin yoga.
  • Keep a gratitude journal near your bedside. Every night, list five things for which you are grateful. Remind yourself that even though you may feel fatigued, there are wonderful aspects of your life and many reasons to heal.
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How to Get Over the Afternoon Slump

Experiencing a drop in energy in the afternoon is natural but when you’re working in the corporate environment the natural drop in cortisol along with low blood sugar, can make you feel sluggish, sleepy, have brain fog and impact your productivity. Cortisol is linked to the body’s natural circadian rhythm. It’s what gets you out of bed in the morning and prepares your body to start burning fuel. When cortisol is allowed to respond naturally, it slowly lowers as the day goes on until midnight when it’s at it’s lowest. In other parts of the world, the natural afternoon drop in cortisol around 2:30 or 3:00 pm, is siesta time or the afternoon nap. But here in America, in the corporate world, that’s when meetings are scheduled, clients need attention, phone calls are returned and your boss needs an update. There’s the un-natural urgency to be at peak performance, able to provide solutions and present yourself well.

A typical quick fix for the natural drop in cortisol is drinking additional coffee or caffeinated drinks, and/or eating chocolate or sugary foods. These quick fixes contribute to belly fat, headaches, shakiness, weight gain and hormonal imbalance. These symptoms can lead to insulin resistance and ultimately, Type 2 Diabetes. Other health risks can include weight gain, arthritis, allergies, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer.

Using caffeine and sugar as fuel, puts stress on the body and causes the additional release of cortisol. Along with additional sugar in the blood stream, providing a spike of energy, it also creates a release of insulin from the pancreas. Because your body is experiencing stress, cortisol will not be allowed to drop naturally. One of cortisol’s main functions is to ensure that glucose (blood sugar) is diverted to muscles, heart, brain and lungs during the flight or fight response. Cortisol doesn’t distinguish between being chased by a tiger or having to attend a business meeting at 3:00 pm. This spike in cortisol causes insulin receptors on cells to close, not allowing glucose into the cells. You will have large amounts of free floating glucose in the blood eventually being stored in the abundance of fat cells around the middle. Your burst of energy comes from the unnatural rise in cortisol and short-lived spike in blood sugar. Unfortunately, blood sugar will quickly drop leaving you feeling fatigued, craving more sugar, irritable, headachy and stressed. The body will respond again with extra amounts of cortisol creating a vicious cycle of over production of cortisol, along with a spike in insulin, and lots of extra glucose (blood sugar). It’s a vicious cycle.

The solution to sustaining and thriving during that afternoon dip in cortisol begins with telling your body that “all is well” and there is no “threat.” The key is to change your body’s underlying biochemistry so that cortisol returns to normal, only responding to real stress, not perceived stress and by supporting blood sugar to remain steady throughout the day.

Below are tips for maintaining a healthy rise and lowering of cortisol while maintaining a steady blood sugar level so that you can experience the natural lowering of cortisol and have the energy and focus to remain at peak performance at 3:00 pm:

  1. Eat Breakfast. Include a healthy protein. Protein should be included in each meal because it slows down the rate at which the stomach empties its food into the next part of the digestive tract and slows the passage of carbohydrates. As soon as you add protein to a carbohydrate you change it into a slow releasing carbohydrate. Adding protein can be as simple as adding a sprinkling of nuts and seeds to your oatmeal. Protein also helps in the control of insulin because it slows the rate of digestion. Include a good quality carbohydrate in breakfast, such as quinoa or steel-cut oatmeal. Quinoa contains high levels of protein. Slow metabolizing carbohydrates, such as steel-cut oats, will take longer to move through the blood stream which will stave off hunger.
  2. Have a late morning snack of a low sugar fruit such as apple, kiwi or berries along with nuts. Again, the addition of nut protein with slow down the metabolizing of the fruit through the blood stream.
  3. Eat Lunch. Include a good quality lean protein plus high fiber carbohydrates and a healthy fat. Healthy fats include oily fish, like salmon or anchovies, avocados, nuts and seeds. Essential fats are essential because they slow down the rate at which the stomach empties, thus making carbohydrates even more slow-releasing, they boost your metabolism, make you less insulin resistant and they reduce inflammation. Don’t eat heavy foods like sauces, cheeses, fried foods or dessert. Eat gluten free which means no wheat breads. Gluten has been associated with inflammation and wheat–even whole wheat products, metabolize as sugar.
  4. Move. Every 90 mins get up from your desk and away from your computer. There have been studies that show the brain can only absorb information effectively for 90 min stretches. Taking a break to re-set will give you greater clarity in finding solutions. By allowing left brain thoughts to turn off and move your thoughts to the right brain activities gives the left brain a rest. When you return, chances are that a solution will come easily. Enjoying a short 30 minute walk either at your lunch break or another time during the day, gives your body a chance to stretch and release any tension. Walking in the sunshine gives your eyes relief from the steady flicker of the computer screen and un-natural lighting. Sunshine also allows your body to absorb Vitamin D.
  5. Stay away from caffeine (coffee, sodas, chocolate) products and sugar! Caffeine is a stimulant that prompts your body to release cortisol, which in turn triggers the release of insulin. Over time caffeine will make your body resistant to insulin so that is turns glucose straight into fat and stores it around your middle. Caffeine also increased the levels of free “bad” fatty acids in the blood.
  6. Drink no less than 64 ozs of water (not including caffeine products) each day. Water is absolutely essential for every function of the body. Our bodies are made up of 70% water and every drop is needed for nutrient transportation, detoxing of toxins from the body, and maintaining body temperature. All of your tissues and especially your brain need hydration. When you have adequate hydration, you think more clearly, have more energy and help calm down inflammation.
  7. Breathe! This is a very important step to relieve any sort of stress. When we’re under stress we tend to shallow breathe which actually increases feelings of stress. Learning to breathe with your diaphragm (belly-breathing) you will signal your body that you are less-stressed and also circulate more oxygen through your body and mind. This will give you more energy and allow feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain to do their job and to activate the relaxation centers in the brain.
  8. Get a good night’s sleep. Good quality sleep between 6-8 hrs each night will give your body a chance to heal, detox and relax. Optimally, cortisol is at it’s lowest between 12 pm and 4:00 am and with the CAR (cortisol awakening response) peaking 30 to 35 mins after rising each morning. If you’re unable to get a good night’s sleep, you create added stress and cortisol will be unable to naturally lower to allow the production of other feel good hormones.

By incorporating these tips into your day you will not only thrive through the afternoon slump but begin building the path of healthy lifestyle living.

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How to Avoid Fast Food When On the Go and Hungry

I’m sure at one time or another all of us have found ourselves in the drive thru line, starving, and craving a solution to low blood sugar and the crazy grumbling in our bellies.  We may be heading in the direction of something quick and fast and it also doesn’t help that each town has at least one to two or even more fast food joints offering quick yet unhealthy options. How can we avoid the craving, the hunger and low blood sugar without losing our determination to remain on a balanced lifestyle? How do we avoid being hungry, craving, cranky, and in a need of a fast fix? It cam be much simpler than you think.

The real fast food, before corporations built these multi-million dollar unhealthy options for us, was good old-fashioned fruits and veggies. Imagine that! Fruits and veggies being the number one option, and sold everywhere we turn as well, even though usually aren’t at a drive thru. So, if it’s about convenience, we need to prepare ahead of time. Packing snacks and quick foods to go in our purse or brief case and our fast food options will align with our healthy determination.

I suggest packing apples, bananas, oranges, and even some healthy homemade trail mix.  Putting some nuts, raisins, and dried fruit like cranberries in a little Ziploc back or plastic Tupperware container to carry with you. It’s always there and won’t fail you. You can even add some chunks of healthy dark chocolate (70% cacao). This is quick to prepare and making a bunch so you can take little servings to spread out over for a few days so it lasts.

The best way to avoid fast food joints while on the go is to always make sure you have a fast food option in your purse.

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Is Your Eating Plan Sustainable and What Does It Look Like?

For me, a sustainable eating plan means I’m eating foods to provide the nutrients I need to continue the activities I love doing, like yoga, cycling, walking, painting, traveling. It also means I’m eating foods that energize, taste good, fit into my every day activities. Sometimes it means quick and easy to prepare foods; other times it means preparing then cooking foods. I’ve learned, through trial and error, that it’s important for me to eat at regular intervals and I plan my schedule to include eating.

Having worked through the process of knowing what works for my body I’ve come to realize that maintaining the sustainability of my eating plan isn’t always perfect. Sometimes I mess up—I forget to buy enough or I’m too tired to stop at the store to buy what I need, or maybe I haven’t planned for my week before I run out of what I need. Sometimes, I don’t prepare and I’m caught out with options that don’t work for my body. What I have learned and this is really important to me, is I don’t like when my stomach hurts, when I feel puffy, lack energy, feel bloated. Those times effect how I’m living my life. The foundation of how I’m living my life is built on how my body feels allowing me to do the activities that feed my soul. I’ve chosen grain-free, red-meat free and gluten-free and that’s what works well for my body. I’ve learned this through several years of trial and error, listening to my body and paying attention.

Listening to the whispers of my body then interpreting as best as I can, is a process. It requires paying attention, some trial and error, most of all, taking a chance, trying something new to see what works for me and what doesn’t. I also know what I want out of my life and how I want my life to look. My body is the tool for how my soul moves though this life. By sustaining it with foods that nourish in a way that feels good to me creates the foundation for living my life with zest and vitality.

How Sustainable is your Eating Plan?

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What about Belly Fat?

Getting rid of “belly fat” is not a one pill quick fix. Its actually there to serve a purpose–to provide quick fuel for the liver during stress.  How much you gain has a lot to do with your age, family history, hormones and birth weight. Women who were smaller babies tend to gain more belly fat as adults and belly fat is more common in women who have given birth.

More fat cells are located in your abdomen to give the liver quicker access to glucose during the “flight or fight response.” Fat cells actually store more glucose.

Belly fat covers another layer of fat called visceral fat—that’s the fat surrounding organs and its also the fat that puts you at risk for health complications. People with chronically high levels of stress carry more visceral fat. While the top layer of fat is a storage area for all the calories you aren’t using, the visceral fat cells are biologically active, increasing your risk of insulin resistance and more health problems. Visceral fat also secretes proteins that can trigger inflammation.

Belly fat is linked to several chronic conditions, including heart disease, Type-2 diabetes, dementia and breast and colorectal cancers.

Ways to lower belly fat are:

  • Calm down inflammation through a whole foods detox. This sets your body back to the “original factory setting” which will kick start the belly fat loss.
  • Lower cortisol through stress management techniques, like yoga and meditation, reframing thoughts, good quality sleep, supportive social network
  • Core exercises will strengthen your abs, but they won’t eliminate the fat that lies beneath them. Ramp up your overall calorie burn with cardio (running, walking, biking)
  • Add two or three weight training sessions on nonconsecutive days to your weekly workouts;
  • Create healthy lifestyle habits which means taking a hard look at how you’re living your life and what you need to change to remain healthy.
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Healthy Snack Ideas

Cravings happen even to the healthiest of us. Often, when a craving hits in the afternoon or the evening after dinner, we get the urge to snack. Snacking can be a bad habit to get into, because the snacks we choose are often junky, bir nutritious, and high in calories, sugar, or fat.

The trick to snacking without piling on the pounds is to find healthy alternatives to the regular snacks you might normally reach for.

Usually, when we get a craving it’s for either something sweet (chocolate!), savory (potato chips!), creamy (ice cream!), or crunchy (crisps!). Obviously, my examples are foods you shouldn’t eat all the time if you want to be trim and healthy. But that doesn’t mean you have to fight your cravings for the rest of your life. Instead, you just need to substitute.

Next time you get a craving for something sweet, why not try:

  • fresh, whole fruit
  • apples and almond butter
  • dried fruit
  • green smoothies
  • banana “ice cream” (peel a banana, freeze, blend in a food processor with nuts, berries or  raisins ,and serve)
  • dates stuffed with almond butter or other nut butter
  • organic dark chocolate chips or carob chips

For your savory cravings, try these healthy alternatives:

  • olives
  • pickles and pickled vegetables, such as carrot, daikon, beets, and lotus root
  • tabouli, hummus
  • steamed vegetables with tamari/shoyu or umeboshi vinegar
  • freshly made salsa or guacamole
  • Sauerkraut (will also knock your sweet craving right out!)
  • salted edamame

Your creamy cravings can be met by eating:

  • smoothies
  • avocados
  • rice pudding
  • dips and spreads, like hummus and baba ghanoush
  • puréed soups
  • puddings made with silken tofu, avocado, or mashed banana
  • mashed sweet potatoes
  • coconut milk

Finally, don‘t cave and reach for the Pringles, when you can eat these crunchy (but still healthy) snacks:

  • apples
  • frozen grapes
  • rice cakes
  • light popcorn or plain popcorn (use coconut oil to pop in a covered pan)
  • carrots (particularly the sweet, organic baby carrots)
  • celery and nut butter
  • raw, unsalted nuts like cashews, almonds, and walnuts

Don’t fight your craving. Instead, listen to what it is your body wants specifically and choose the healthier option that will be good to your waistline.

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When Things Happen

I’ve written several times on the journey of rebuilding my life—how I quit the corporate job that was sucking the life out of me and how I’m building a business so that I can speak my truth and live in the way that feels good to me. Doing this life reformation can be really stressful, frustrating, and fearful. Many times, I feel I’m all alone, don’t know what to do next, who to ask for help or just where I fit.

This transformation is pretty much filled with lots of stumbling blocks, obstacles and learning experiences. I’ve spent my share of headspace trying to come to understand “why this stuff keeps happening to me.” I meditate and talk with the Universe about “what’s going on here, why is this so hard?”

Yesterday, as I was returning from a talk at a local fitness center, I was listening to Oprah talk with Gary Zukav. They were speaking with people about how they wanted to change and asking why they continued to do the same things. I really felt drawn to what they were saying as I felt the same, “why do I keep experiencing this stuff when I’m trying really hard to make my dream happen.” Gary gave the perfect answer. “When we ask the Universe for help, it immediately goes through the process of making it happen.” The thing that became really clear to me was that I was seeing or feeling the answer with the wrong set of “eyes.” Listening to Gary, I realized I was experiencing the Universe’ answer to my question through the eyes of “blame.” I was trying to place blame somewhere for those experiences I felt were keeping me from my dream. In reality, the Universe is answering my question through experience. The Universe is teaching me to build the muscle of resilience by allowing me the opportunity to experience obstacles, stumbles and hardships for growing that muscle. By placing those stumbles or hardships in front of me, I work through them. They teach me to be less fearful, come up with solutions, and how to just go with the flow. I’ve learned to appreciate living in the moment, to maintain a more positive attitude, do my best to understand what others are experiencing. I’ve learned to be less fearful, even though fear does creep in, I’ve learned that I can’t control everything and that when I start trying to control things is when I experience the most anxiety. So once, again, this business growing process is about personal growth. As I flex the muscle of resilience, with each stumble, be grateful to the Universe for making me stronger and know that I’m moving closer towards my dream.

How is the Universe giving you the opportunity to grow your muscle of resilience?

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For the Love of Chocolate

If you’re like me—you’ve got to have your chocolate fix. Happily for me, I’ve developed a real liking for dark chocolate—70% cacao or more. I have my favorites and know just where to find them. I often mention to my children that I need to open a shop called “World of Chocolate” as I’m always on the lookout for what’s new and willing to try new brands at the drop of a hat. While doing some research on the benefits of chocolate I found these tidbits you might enjoy—especially for those of us 50+

“It Lowers Your Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke
Eating dark chocolate everyday for 10 years could reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke for high-risk patients, according to a 2012 Australian study. Meanwhile, an earlier study found that eating moderate amounts of chocolate everyday reduces an average person’s risk of heart attack and stroke up to 40 percent.”

“It Is Full Of Antioxidants
The higher the level the cocoa, the higher the capacity of antioxidants, according to Science Daily. Antioxidants help protect your body from aging and disease, thereby increasing your longevity.”

“It Will Help You Lose Weight
When eaten in moderation, dark chocolate can “slow down digestion so you feel full longer” and help curve cravings, according to Health.com.”

“It Prevents Memory Loss
Recent studies about dark chocolate have shown that it helps reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and slows the progression of dementia. Flavanols in dark chocolate do this by increasing blood flow around the brain and protecting cells in the brain from damage.”

“It Protects Your Skin
Flavanols, the same compound that slows down memory loss, may also protect skin from the sun. Research has shown that flavanols in dark chocolate protects skin against harmful UV rays and sun damage.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/17/chocolate-benefits_n_2879797.html#slide=more286368

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What Does the Gut Have To Do With Your Mood?

Your gut, aka “inside your belly”, has been proven to be your bodies literal “second brain”. For years, the medical world has been trying to figure out what causes our moods to change and what causes common problems that most of us face like stress, anxiety, and even depression. These are common problems, and we know they are linked to serotonin, but did you know that 95% of serotonin isn’t even produced in the brain? Serotonin is actually produced in the gut.

What we put inside of our bellies is directly related to our emotional health. Our gut consists of bacteria and we need that bacteria to have a healthy balance or the rest of us will not be balanced including our mood. Your gut and your brain work together, so if one is out of balance the other will be also. Have you ever had an upset stomach because your mind was stressed? Well, think about it, if it works one way it works both ways. Their have been many scientific studies that have linked mood problems to gut problems and vice versa.

Is your gut balanced with 85% good bacteria and 15% bad bacteria? That is the recipe for a healthy gut and a healthy mood. The best way to make sure your body has healthy bacteria for your gut is to feed your gut healthy bacteria. Some symptoms of an unhealthy gut include gas, bloating, nausea, sugar cravings, and more. The best way to make sure that your gut is getting the healthy nourishment it needs is through probiotics. Probiotics can be in pill form, or you can get them right through your diet. Excellent sources of probiotics include kefir and fermented or cultured foods and beverages.

Keeping a healthy gut in check will help you to digest food properly, absorb vital nutrients, and maintain a healthy state of mind aka your mood.

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10 Ways to Boost Your Energy Level

If you’re like me, your energy level fluctuates throughout the day. My hormone levels tend to be on the side of too low cortisol and too low thyroid. I wake up, early, with the sun and I’m ready for a nap by late afternoon followed by early to bed—before 10. My mornings are filled with creativity, positive reflection and action until I have the mid afternoon slump–appreciating a 30 minute nap. One of the first things I do to start the day, is have a cup of warm lemon water with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar. This helps my sinus’ stay clear and flushes toxins from my liver and kidneys. I may drink more lemon water throughout the day, sometimes with a couple of leaves of mint.  In warmer months, it’s really refreshing to add a couple of slices of orange.

When researching my 15 day detox, I found these 10 other tips that will help increase energy:

  1. Cut caffeine and exchange it with green tea or yerba mate
  2. Drink more water and add sea salt or some coconut water
  3. Eat dark leafy green vegetables (kale is the new beef)
  4. Reduce sugar, use gentle sweets (1 tbs. raw or local honey is great for reducing allergies)
  5. Physical activity each day–a 2 mile walk in the morning or evening will help you sleep more soundly and also help relieve stress
  6. More relaxation–try a dancing meditation or something special just for you;
  7. Evaluate the amount and type of protein you’re eating
  8. Take time for yourself–a massage, or epsom salt bath is great for detoxing (self care is number one for weight loss – high cortisol depletes as the body relaxes)
  9. Laugh More–this releases the happy hormone oxytocin and lowers cortisol
  10. Spend more time with your girl friends. Since women have much more estrogen then men do, estrogen enhances the bonding effects of oxytocin and women’s neurocircuitry relies more heavily on oxytocin than men do.

 

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