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Robin D. Stone is a New York City based psychotherapist, coach and consultant who works to help you achieve your most optimal self. 

Adaptogens to Your Rescue
 
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I had to laugh at a recent article about the actress Gwyneth Paltrow selling $200 smoothies on her good-for-you website GOOP. I gave the side-eye to her ingredients like Beauty Dust and Goodnight Dust (at $55-$65 a pop), but I was curious about some of the herbal ingredients listed like ashwagandha. 

Ashwagandha is among a class of healing plants known as adaptogens, which are thought to support your body’s immune function and boost its ability to handle internal and environmental stress. If you face the wear and tear of a fast-paced (and at times difficult) life, then you might want to fortify your diet with adaptogens.   

Adaptogens aren’t new; the concept is thousands of years old, and certain adaptogenic plants go by different names in different practices and disciplines. In Ayurveda, they are known as the rasayanas, and in traditional Chinese medicine, they are called the Superior Herbs. In 1947 the Russian scientist Lazarev coined the term adaptogen, for an agent that allows an organism to “adapt” to adversity.

Like herbal supplements, adaptogens are not FDA-approved. So if you consider using them, be sure to get information on the plant, its properties and potential interactions with any medicines or herbs that you may be taking. When it comes to choosing an adaptogen, consider what best targets your needs as each offers something a little different.

As a newbie to adaptogens, you might want to take baby steps in introducing them into your diet. Try something like Adaptogenic Miso dressing from Great Kosmic Kitchen. This recipe works nicely because you simply sprinkle the powdered herb into the dressing. You can also add the herbs over mixed roasted vegetables and stir in broths or soups, like Learning Herbs’ Immune Soup.

Here are a few adaptogens highlighted on The Great Kosmic Kitchen and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
 

  • This root, also known as Indian ginseng, is often used for fatigue, stress, immune system support, joint pain (topically), and to stabilize blood sugar and hormones. Traditional recipes include the root (powdered) in warm milk and/or honey. Use 1-6 grams a day. Can be taken as a capsule.

Asian Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)
American Ginseng (Panax ginseng)

  • Ginseng’s Latin name, Panax, comes from the same Greek root as the English word “panacea,” meaning cure-all, or all-healing. Ginseng is known to relieve stress, and studies suggest that it significantly improves athletic performance, relieves fatigue and can reduce muscle inflammation after exercise. Ginseng is among the world’s most widely used medicinal plants.

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)

  • Also known as “huang qi,” Astragalus is used traditionally to stimulate the immune system and reduce fatigue. Research suggests it may also be helpful for immune systems that have been weakened by chemotherapy or radiation. As with most medicinal plants, use about 3-4 grams throughout the day of the powder or in tincture form.

More to know:
*Adaptogens are not fast-acting; it takes a couple of months to see consistent results.

*For the herbal adventurist, try adaptogens in a variety of ways, from brewing strong decoctions and teas to taking a daily capsule to alcohol or non-alcohol based tinctures.

*You can purchase organically grown adaptogens and herbs at online retailers like Mountain Rose Herbs or at your local herb shop.


Happy healing, 
Robin

 
Can Empathy Be the Key to Healthier Habits?
 

If you need some help getting unstuck as you try to create healthier new habits, a strategy called Design Thinking might be just the thing for you.

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Traditionally, Design Thinking is used by entrepreneurs and engineers in business and development, but experts suggest that it can work on an individual level to support lasting change. 

Tara Parker-Pope, the New York Times health writer, shares her experiences applying Design Thinking to her own life and writes about how she lost 25 pounds, “reconnected with close friends and refocused my energy on specific goals and habits.” 

She added that Design Thinking helped her identify obstacles keeping her goals out of reach and reframe problems to make them easier to solve.

Design Thinking employs a five-step process with an emphasis on the first two steps:

1.     Empathize: get to the heart of issues that need to be solved. 

2.     Define the problem, which isn’t always as easy as you might think.

3.     Ideate:  brainstorm lots of different solutions. 

4.     Build: develop a prototype or a plan. 

5.     Test the idea and get feedback from others.

As Parker-Pope explains, the process helps you reflect and learn to ask pointed questions about what you need and what you want to achieve. Applying the strategy to her desire to lose weight. she asked herself, “ What would losing weight really do for you?” She shares: 

“Conducting my own personal empathy exercise helped me realize that weight loss was really not my problem. I wanted to feel better about myself, feel less tired and have more energy and confidence to socialize and reconnect with friends. Instead, I needed to focus on my friendships, on boosting my energy and getting better sleep.”

This strategy is the similar to the “Primary Foods” approach that I use in working with clients. Instead of hyper-focusing on foods you eat (and memorizing calories, fat grams, sodium, sugar and the like), we focus on those “foods” that truly sustain you, like supportive relationships, fulfilling work, meaningful movement, and a relevant spiritual practice. Once these “hungers” are met, it’s easier to change your approach to eating foods don’t just fill you up but make you happy and healthy.

So often we shame ourselves into making changes. But wouldn’t it be interesting to see what happens when we first empathize with the parts of ourselves that are tired or disconnected or need some TLC? 

How could you bring Design Thinking into your life? What one thing could you do to promote healthy change? 

Look forward to hearing from you,
Robin

 
What We Can Learn from Hunger
 

Do you ever eat because you’re bored, stressed, you deserve it, because everybody else is eating, or simply because “it’s time?” 

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What about because you’re hungry?

Few of us eat because we’re hungry because we rarely feel hunger these days. With constant grazing, we’re eating from the time we wake up until the time we lie down.  We’re eating midnight snacks and 6 a.m. bagels. We’re eating while watching TV and while commuting. We’re on everybody else’s schedule but our own body’s.

And often, if we’re eating while in motion or otherwise occupied, we aren’t really mindful of how much we’re eating, or even the quality of what we’re eating. Ever down a bag of chips in the car the and then head straight to the fridge for dinner once you get home? You’re no longer hungry, but it’s “time” to eat.

Some of us, who may have a history of not having enough food to eat, may eat to avoid the emotional triggers that feeling hungry might produce. We may be eating more than we should because we “deserve” it. 

Unless you’re aware of these dynamics, you can’t address them.

Hunger, in fact is a useful sensation, as this registered dietitian explains. It signals to our body that it’s time to eat. When we eat for reasons other than hunger, we’re often taking in more calories than our bodies can use.

But how do you know when you’re really hungry? As she notes, a Hunger Scale can help you get in touch with your body’s needs. Here’s how it works: Your internal scale prompts you to eat when you are “pleasantly hungry” but not starving, and to stop when you are “pleasantly full” but not stuffed.

But before you get on that scale, you might want to spend a few days simply monitoring and noting when you eat, what you eat and why. Note how often you eat because you are truly hungry. And the true reasons you eat when you aren’t. Be honest, and gentle, with yourself.

And when you’re ready, allow yourself the sensation of feeling hungry. So that when you sit down with your appetite (and pretty food on the plate, a fork, a knife, a napkin, no TV, no distractions), you savor your food for all of its goodness – and all of the good it does you.

 
Warming Your Soul with Soup
 

Polar Vortex, Deep Freeze, #Carribbeanbound – whatever you call it, winter is here and wearing us out!


There’s no better way to take the chill off your bones than a hearty, hot soup.

Restaurant dining has trained us to think of soup as a side or a “starter” dish, but soup can be a filling meal in itself. It’s just what you want to find in the fridge when you come home late and too tired to “cook.” I often eat it as a main course, with a salad or fruit or crackers on the side.

And soup has the power to heal – did you know it’s used to help with everything from seasonal colds to managing weight? In every culture, you can find soups to help with common ailments.

Whether it’s thin and broth-y, pureed and chunky, meaty and spicy, African, Asian or Creole influenced, you can never get bored with soup.


Many soups cook in just one pot – throw in some fresh chopped veggies, water, broth or stock, herbs and spices, protein, and sauté and stir. Most soups are easily portable in a thermos and freeze well.

You could actually dine well on nothing but soup. If you had time to cook only one pot for the week (30 minutes to an hour), you would be eating quite healthfully, provided you use clean and whole ingredients. Try making one pot over the weekend – when you may have a bit more time to yourself – and see how long that lasts you. 

Three reasons I love soups so much: they’re easy to make, they’re good for you, and they remind me of home – though not quite in the way you might think.  


I grew up eating canned soups, and when we would visit my great aunt and great grandmother, there was always a soup simmering. Often it was simple and fresh, like okra, lima beans and corn, or yesterday’s chicken with carrots, celery and homemade dumplings. I would scrunch up my nose, finding the unfamiliar scent, the misshapen veggies and the scarred old pots foreign compared with the uniform noodles and squares of mushy carrots and mystery meat in shiny cans that I was used to. I’m embarrassed about how I’d tell Biggie and Auntie that I was already full and pass up their dishes.

I miss those days and the matrons of the kitchen, who are now long gone. But now when I stir up a pot of my own, I imagine my great-grandmother Zillar, who we called Biggie, handing me her just-emptied bowl, peering over her rims and saying “Child, pass me another spoon of that soup.” And that warms me right up. 

 
Ready to Hit the Reset Button?
 

In late 2013, with a grueling semester in graduate school, three major deadlines, client sessions and rich holiday meals, I ended the year with 12 extra pounds, fatigue, dry mouth, a dry, flaky scalp and zits like I haven’t seen since I was 15. 

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What happened? The short answer: Too much to do with too little time. The longer one: in the face of late nights (and snacking), less exercise (and more sitting) and tunnel vision (less time with friends and family -- and with myself), I stopped taking my own advice. Then my treadmill -- my go-to source of exercise -- broke, and that threw everything out of whack.

I talk to clients about these issues all the time. But in the face of new stressors (demands on my time and attention) and a broken treadmill, I hadn’t asked myself kinds of questions that I ask clients, like, “Where exactly can you fit that workout in your jam-packed schedule?” And “How can you get more sleep and cut the late-night snacks?” And “What can you do to recharge?” 

As the new year started and I teetered at the edge of my wardrobe and could barely button my favorite jeans, I knew I needed to change course. I took a hard look at why I had stopped taking care of myself and explored what my life was missing: more water, more sleep, more regular workouts, more connections and balance. Then I hit “reset,” and one-by-one, began to include those missing elements. 

I know that when our primary foods -- relationships, spiritual grounding, exercise, work -- don't fulfill us, we often turn to the foods we eat for satisfaction. And stressors slow down our metabolism, making our bodies slower to process what we do eat.

I tossed out those old dieters’ delusions that I’d get quick results, and then I jumpstarted my plan:
 

  • 30 minutes walking/jogging three times a week (wake up a half hour early to get it in), and 15-20 minutes other exercise two times a week (crunches, squats jumping jacks, pushups)
  • 7-8 glasses of water daily (one just after waking up, one with each meal, one between each meal, and one at night)
  • 6-7 hours of sleep daily (and no late-night munchies)
  • Connections and fun: At least one “play date” with girlfriends or my son per week, and a real date with my honey 
  • More meditation and journaling


Three weeks in, I’m three pounds lighter, and with a little less around my middle, my clothes already fit better. I have more energy, my face and scalp are clearing up, and I don’t wake up feeling tired and parched. Of course, breaking old habits can be like turning around a big ship, so it will take time to get back up to speed on exercise, and I’m still working on the sleep (but no more snacks). But I’ve been patient, forgiving and encouraging. I'm giving myself 60 days to get back on track, and as a new semester starts and clients and commitments come in, I know I'll need to follow my own advice and stick to my plan.

My plan doesn’t look like yours. That’s why it’s important to consider what you need to reset in your own life. One Facebook friend shared that she was looking to get her “mojo” back. She asked friends to describe what mojo meant to them. She got 10 different answers from 10 people. She then defined what mojo meant to her, and has since inspired us with #Projectmojo postings as she works on hers. 

One thing I love about a new year: We can wipe the slate and start all over. As 2014 gets in gear and you strive to do this one better, happier, healthier, make a commitment to stop, reassess and reset. And then stick with it. If you need some help to start or keep it up, get it. If you stumble, get back up and keep going. My mojo is Momentum. And you've got to start to get it.

Are you ready to hit a hard reset? Let me know the first thing you’ll do differently, and why.

Be well,
Robin

 
Lift Your Spirits, Boost Your Health
 

One study showed that spiritual or religious practice like prayer can help fight off depression – especially if depression runs in your family. 

The brain-mapping research at Teacher’s College at Columbia University found that found that people who valued their religion more and prayed regularly had thicker cortices when compared to those who did not. It seems that a thinning cortex is associated with depression. Regular church attendance was not a factor; the focus was more on how much people valued spirituality in their lives.

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Another study, by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, shows that meditation may improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. So much so that meditation appeared to provide the same kind of relief as that from antidepressants, the study’s leader said.

Other research points to countless benefits from spiritual practices, from relaxation and stress reduction to faster healing of surgical scars to increased immunity to just being happier.

The outtake: Spirituality and spiritual practices like prayer and meditation are not just good for your soul; they can actually boost your mental and physical well-being.

Docs may never write ’scripts for “take two prayers and call me in the morning,” but as we seek ways to recover and heal from whatever ails us, it’s good to remember the benefits of sweet and soulful surrender.

 
Making a Wheat-Free Pie Crust
 
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In blogs past I’ve written about the perils of eating wheat for some of us; how the protein gluten that’s found in wheat can lead to painful intestinal trouble and autoimmune problems as well as sluggishness and belly bulges. So if the coming holiday season inspires you to contribute something homemade and sweet to the table, here are a few alternatives to traditional pie crusts. 

Pre-packaged mixes:

William Sonoma featuring Cup4Cup, the highly praised flour blend created by a chef as a substitute for regular flour

Namaste, for biscuits and pie crust and other stuff too

Bob's Red Mill for sweet or savory crusts

Do It Yourself:

A recipe to make a piecrust from scratch 

 
8 Ways to Stay on Track This Holiday Season
 

It’s holiday time, and with the family gatherings, the mistletoe and hot toddies come temptations to eat and drink to excess. We all look forward to the festivities, but if you’re not careful, those joyous holiday gatherings can be diet disasters waiting to happen. Here’s a plan of action that makes it easy to enjoy the get-togethers and goodies without piling on the pounds.   

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1. Make Time to Move  
 

  • Schedule in a workout – for everybody. Suggest a new family holiday tradition: taking a walk together after your holiday meal to burn some calories and “make room” for dessert. Or crank up the iPod and get everybody dancing down the “Soul Train” line. Combining family time with exercise will give you a chance to bond and give you a break from the holiday fuss. Build snowmen, shoot some hoops, go ice skating, even rake up some leaves.
  • Dust off your home gym. You may be too busy to get to the gym, but you can work that stationery bike or treadmill while watching the morning news.
  • If you’re traveling, take your workout with you. Pack light stretch bands and a favorite exercise DVD and put them to use!                 


2. Don’t Skip Healthy Snacks and Meals Before Parties

Starving yourself before you go out won’t help you mind your portions. If you step up to a buffet and you’re famished, chances are you’re going to eat too much. Make sure to eat a light but satisfying midday lunch, and before you head for the party, take the edge off your hunger with a snack like a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit.


3. Only Eat What You Really Like

Be a food snob! You don’t have to sample everything on the buffet. If you don't love something, don’t even bother tasting it. Check out the spread for foods and flavors you adore and skip what you can have anytime. Indulge in your holiday favorites, then find a seat, take your time, and savor every mouthful. 


4. Choose Wine Over Mixed Drinks

Wine has substantially fewer calories compared with other alcoholic beverages. Wine weighs in at about 125 calories, as opposed to vodka and tonic (165 calories) or eggnog (320 calories).


5. Alternate Alcohol With Water

Since alcoholic drinks are loaded with calories, try alternating each drink with water or seltzer. You’ll save calories - and stay grounded!


6. Get Enough Sleep

With all the shopping, the cooking and taking care of guests, sleep gets shoved to the back burner. A lack of shut-eye can do more than compromise your skin and appearance. It has been linked with a higher incidence of obesity, hypertension, and other metabolic disorders. Sleep-deprived folks also exhibit higher levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite.


7. Socialize Instead of Eating

Don’t stand around the food table when you’re at a party. Focus your energy on spending time with family and friends instead of raiding the buffet and bar!


8. Bring your own dish

I have a friend who is allergic to wheat and dairy. If she eats just a bit of cheese or bread she ends up in digestive despair. Whenever we go to a dinner party, she brings her own dish. She even brings a plastic sandwich bag to restaurants with rice crackers or rice bread. If you bring your own food, you’ll have just what you need to indulge worry-free.

 
Fall's Food Stars
 

Ever think of how odd it is that the produce in our markets looks the same, whether it’s August or December?  That you can buy a pineapple or a cantaloupe in the middle of a snowstorm? Why eat foods that aren’t in season when you could be enjoying not only the most nutritious but also the most delicious foods the season has to offer?

It took me a while to get hip to this. ‘A strawberry is a strawberry,’ I used to think. But as I cleaned up my menu, my taste buds became more sophisticated and my tastes became more discriminating, it became to clear:  a strawberry from the local farms near my New York City home in July is a far superior fruit to the strawberries that get trucked in around Christmas time. Far less expensive, too!

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When produce arrives on our shelves from hundreds and thousands of miles away, it’s been picked and shipped long before its harvest time.  And more likely than not, it’s also been treated with waxes, dyes and preservatives so it looks “fresh.”

Food tastes the most delicious when it’s plucked just as it ripens, and you’re most likely to get produce at its peak when you buy what’s grown near where you live. Fresh fruits and vegetables harvested and distributed at their peak also have the highest nutritional content – that means more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants for you!

For centuries, we’ve known about the health benefits of eating what’s in season – Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic and macrobiotic diets all spotlight seasonal eating.  We may not have a freezer chest, and we probably aren’t going to start canning. But we can make a point to buy locally and plan our menus by what’s being harvested at the farms nearest us.  Besides, you pay less for foods in season and you help contributing to sustainable agriculture.

Here are eight foods that you’ll want to savor at the top of fall – when they’re in season and at their very best:

Apples

Whether you like a classic Red Delicious, an intensely sweet Fuji or a tart Granny Smith, you’re certain to find this anti-oxidant boost in its prime.

Carrots

Chop it. Shred it. Eat it whole.  However you have it, indulge in this sweet and nutty beta-carotene blast - a great addition to stews and casseroles.

Figs

Savory and saccharine, figs are in season through October and an earthy addition to pies, salads and purees. They have the highest fiber and mineral content of all common fruits, nuts or vegetables.

Grapes

Whether in juices, jellies, jams or plucked from the vine, grapes lend a crisp sweetness reminiscent of summer. One cup of grapes, at about 100 calories, meets more than a quarter of your daily needs of vitamins K and C. They’re high in sugar, so eat in moderation. 

Kale

This sturdy green stands out in the fall. It’s in season through December but stock up and enjoy now – seared, wilted or baked. Kale is rich in vitamins A, C, and K, and in phytonutrients.

Pears

This crisp and subtly sweet fruit is perfect in everything from salads to cocktails. Because they’re high in fiber and have a low glycemic index, pears are an intelligent snack for those with diabetes.

Pumpkins

Artificially pumpkin-flavored everything is in this fall, but try to use the real deal. Tart but nutty, pumpkin can be used in pies, chutneys and even muffins. (And the best ones for cooking aren’t those jack-o-lantern porch beauties; ask your produce expert to steer you to the right ones for cooking.) Pumpkins are loaded with vitamin A and fiber, and are low in calories.

Squash

You can find squash in season by early November, so snatch them up to use in casseroles, stews and even burritos. Squash is full of antioxidants.

Explore your community listings for farmers markets and Community-Supported Agriculture programs, where you can get weekly deliveries of seasonal produce. For New Yorkers, here’s where you can find your local CSA

Here you’ll find farmers’ markets and a handy guide of what’s in season each month.


What's your favorite fall produce? 

 
Simple Steps to Low-Carb Eating
 
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Pizza. Pasta. Bread. Once upon a time, I couldn’t get enough of them. I began each day with a bowl of cereal. Started almost every dinner with a roll.  Celebrated Fridays with a large cheese pie – and some cheesy bread. These days I steer clear of refined carbohydrates, but I still feel a client’s pain when she says, “Seriously? You want me to give up my bagels?!”

Before we get into the idea of “giving up” foods, my first question usually is, how did it become “your” bagel? Or “your” toast,” or “your” muffin? After highlighting her too-close-for-comfort relationship with said food, we start to explore the nature of refined carbs and their effects on diet, metabolism and overall health.

Pizza, pasta and bread are comfort foods that few of us are reluctant to give up. Most are made with refined wheat flour and pack a glycemic punch that sends blood sugar soaring and encourages insulin resistance, fat storage and chronic health problems like diabetes and heart disease – the nation’s leading cause of death. Refining strips whole grains of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Products labeled “enriched” have only some of those nutrients replaced. White flours have been bleached. So unbleached doesn’t mean “whole.”

A new study confirms what many healthy-living experts have been advocating for years now: a diet low in carbohydrates – even with some added fat – lowers weight and leads to better heart health than a diet that’s low in fat.  The message is not to start ladling lard into your dishes, but to consider that fat is not the dietary demon it was once made out to be. So eat fewer carbs, slightly more good-for-you fats, throw in some exercise (of course you would), and you’ve got a healthier body all around.

Note that low-carb doesn’t mean no-carb. Just as your body needs fat and protein, it needs carbohydrates to thrive. But consider the source of your carbs: your body benefits from whole grains (plus fruits and veggies, beans and nuts) much more than it does from refined-flour pizza, pasta and bread. And note that this isn’t a low-carb diet. It’s not a quick fix, but a conscious way of eating for life.

In time, my client becomes versed in the effects of refined carbs on her body. Then we move on to that notion of “giving up” foods, focusing not on what she “can’t” eat, but all the good stuff she can eat, like whole, unprocessed foods, lean fish and meat.

Before we’re done – and this is very important – my client and I explore what might bring her comfort that has nothing to do with food. Calling a friend. Taking a walk. Working it out with yoga or Zumba. Writing about it. Meditation or prayer.  These satisfy hungers that no food can. And while comfort foods may bring brief relief, they have nothing to do with lasting healing.

Eventually my client moves pizza/pasta/bread from main event to sideshow, and then to an occasional appearance if at all. And all that talk about giving up foods that weren't "hers" in the first place? Gone.


Chart from wholeshift.com