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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. 

Posts tagged healing
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

 
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. 

 
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 

 
Ready to Declare Your Independence?
 
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We’re now in the thick of summer, but the 4th of July is still on my mind. As we remember family reunions, picnics and barbecues, let’s consider the significance of the 4th – the national holiday celebrating this country’s adoption of The Declaration of Independence from the Empire of Great Britain.  Sometimes, especially since it’s been more than 200 years, we get so caught up in the celebrations that it’s easy to forget the meaning of the day.  Did freedom cross your mind when the fireworks lit the sky on the 4th? Did you celebrate that freedom?

I’d like to suggest a challenge for the rest of the summer – and beyond.

Let's make a personal declaration of independence – to be awake and aware enough to say:

I ______________________________, do solemnly declare:
I’m the one who determines my daily habits. I will take responsibility for seeing that I get the food and exercise that I deserve. I won’t blame my schedule or my mate or my kids or lack of knowledge for the choices I make.
I will pay closer attention to how I eat and what I eat, and how I treat my body. If it’s not good for me, I won’t do it.
I will be more aware of the people I let into my life. I’ll push haters, naysayers and negativity to the outer circle of the sphere that influences me.
I will explore what I believe about things – from the quality of my food and relationships to the work I do to the way I cultivate my spirituality. I’ll determine what works and what doesn’t.
I will celebrate my independence every day.

At its core, Freedom is the ability to choose. But as Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote, "Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility." As a health coach, I am here to help you choose a lifestyle that leads to your best health so that you can get the most out of life. I'm also here to hold you to your promise to yourself to do just that. The best way to start is to become more aware of your habits, to keep the ones that work for you and to toss those that don’t. 

So let’s declare our independence from manufacturers, marketers and agribusiness, from peer pressure and those who don’t have our interests at heart. Let’s be responsible, independent thinkers and choose options that lead to only the best of health. Now that’s a Freedom worth celebrating.

How will you exercise your Freedom?

Healthy eating,
Robin 

 
What are You Hungry For?
 

“But aren’t you supposed to have three meals and two snacks a day?” One client challenged me as we explored the concept of eating when you’re hungry. 

“You’re supposed to have the nutrition and satisfaction that you need for the day,” I replied, “but there’s no rule as to when and how you’re supposed to have it.” 

The meals/snacks scenario is just one of many of the major misconceptions around healthful eating, along with the rule that says a meal needs to be a meat and two “sides” of a “starch” and a veggie. 

Ever wonder why “sides” are about the same whether you’re ordering in a sit-down restaurant or at a bake-and-take chicken place? 

But I digress. One reason that so many of us are overweight is that in following rules like meals/snacks, we’ve lost touch with our own hunger. We eat more often than we need to, and more than we need. In many cases we substitute hunger for other things, like love, affection, a job we like and that likes us back, more money. And we try to feed these other hungers with food. 

To rationalize feeding the hungers, we adopt rules that mesh comfortably with our lifestyles, quirks and habits. There is a rule that says you should eat three meals a day and mentions nothing about snacks. Why is it that nobody seems to adopt that rule? 

A friend once glanced at my salad-filled plate and surmised that I was a “utilitarian eater.” I thought about it for a minute (in this age of peer-pressured eating, somebody always has something to say about a salad-filled plate) and agreed. Most of the time I eat when I’m hungry and I eat what I need. Now don’t get me wrong – I am known to answer when sweet treats call my name. But I’ve learned to put aside all the diet rules and take my cue from my body. I can tell when I'm hungry for food, and when I'm hungry for something else. 

So today’s rule – so to speak – is to eat when you’re hungry, but to know which hunger you’re feeding. How can you get in touch with your authentic, physical hunger? Here’s a start: 
 

  1. Eat with intention. Try this: Set a plate, make it pretty, sit at a table, use utensils and savor your meal. Don’t watch TV or read the paper or anything distracts. Note the colors, flavors and textures of your meal. Chew each mouthful at least 25 times (for many, that’s easier said than done). Stop. Put your fork and knife down. Drink (water, ideally), and start again. This exercise will force you to slow down and give you time to recognize when you are full. And when you are full, ignore the rule about cleaning your plate, and stop eating. You can’t do this all the time, of course, but mindful eating is a good foundation for developing other healthy eating habits.
  2. Let yourself “feel” hungry. A lot of us wouldn’t know what physical hunger felt like if it punched us in the gut. We eat dinner at 7 and a snack at 10, ad then we wake up at 6:30, not feeling hungry, but we eat anyway because the rules say “breakfast time.” Of course you shouldn’t skip breakfast, but recognize that if you don’t allow at least 12 hours between the last thing you ate at night (snacks included) and the first thing you eat in the morning, your body is still processing food from the night before and might not be ready for more. There’s a reason they call it “break” “fast:” you should wake feeling hungry if you’ve truly fasted. When you are hungry, eat a fiber- and protein-rich breakfast (fruits or veggies and certain grains or lean meat) – it should carry you to lunch without the need for a snack.
  3. Ask yourself, “What am I hungry for?” Consider that you may be bored and looking for entertainment. Or stressed over a big project that’s due. Or you had a hard day at work and “deserve” to treat yourself to an over-the-top dessert. While you’re considering the answer, drink a glass of water. That will help you break the habit mindless eating and feeding hungers that food can’t begin to feed.

Have a Healthy Day, 
Robin

 
How Walking Saved Me from Despair
 
Down in front with my old Zumba crew.   

Down in front with my old Zumba crew.
 

I have never considered myself much of a fitness buff.

Family and friends, on the other hand, would beg to differ. I’ve been called a fanatic, been told that my vacations are “Outward Bound” adventures, and dubbed by my niece “that crazy health lady.”

What I am is a mover. I walk, jog, run and golf. I vibe to P90x and 20 Second Fitness. Back in the day, Tae-Bo was my thing. Before that, Jane Fonda (I’ve still got my three-part step). And way before that, I taught low-impact aerobics at a local Living Well Lady. I don’t like to sweat, but I’ve always I loved how I feel when I move my body.

Intellectually, I know how exercise boosts those feel-good chemicals called endorphins. After an intense workout session, I’ve even felt the “runner’s high” that we’ve read about. 

But it wasn’t until when I needed it most – when I was so down and out that it was hard to get out of bed and get dressed for the day – that I saw how exercise could lift you up from the depths of deep despair.

Cancer was killing my husband. The doctors referred us to hospice. My son was 10 and writing letters to his future self to come back in time and bring the cure. After a stressful day of work and tending to family, I found that nights became my friend. Before I rested, and as I said prayers for comfort, for peace, and for the strength to go on, I started walking on my treadmill. Almost every night I walked. Sometimes at 8 p.m., sometimes I got out of bed at midnight. And then I slept hard. On weekends I walked with girlfriends and at the rise-and-shine hour of 7.

I asked my therapist about medication. I hated feeling so bad. She didn’t dissuade me but she did ask, “What are you doing to take care of yourself?” I told her about all the walking, and confided that I was worried. Was it an addiction? Who walks at midnight? Keep going, my therapist assured me. I’m glad she did.

These days Americans are all too quick to reach for a prescription – after painkillers and cholesterol-lowering meds, antidepressants are the country’s most-prescribed drug. A part of the reason, as in this recent report, is that doctors are so quick to prescribe meds when movement might be enough. When you are feeling low, it’s important to know that you have a choice.

After my husband made his transition, I added meditation and golfing to the mix of what I was doing to take care of myself, and I walked and walked and walked. At some point, an older woman passed me on the neighborhood track, salt-and-pepper dreadlocks bouncing with each step. More encouraged than outdone, I started to trot. And so I became a runner. Growing up with chronic asthma, I had always told myself that vigorous exercise was beyond me. But once I started, and my asthma stayed in check, I saw how challenging exercise bolstered not only my lung capacity and my endurance, but also my spirits.

Walking gave me the motivation to get up and go on. I had a son to parent, a life to lead and dreams to fulfill. Running gave me the confidence to do more than I thought I could. Moving works. You may need more if you are down and depressed, but exercise is a good place to start. Studies show it, and I’ve lived it.

 
Why Your Calorie Counts May Not Be Working
 
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Many of us have a hate-hate relationship with calories. If you’ve counted then till the cows came home but lost not one pound, you know what I mean. But here’s how calories can be our friend.


We typically fall into one of three calorie-counting camps: The counter, who tallies every last one of them, the guesstimator, who rounds off, and let’s say the ignorer, who eats “what’s good” for them. All three have pros and cons, and all influence how we lose (or gain) weight. 

Counters have a solid sense of calories and fat, cholesterol, sodium, and for those on eating plans, “points,” but when focusing on numbers alone and not nutrients and other values in food, counters can end up making not-so-good choices. Ever substitute an order of fries for a hearty salad because they have about the same calories count? You already know which is better, but if you’re in counting mode, you tell yourself the swap is OK because it’s even – even though you know it’s not. If you’re a counter, you may also feel like a ship without a rudder navigating a restaurant menu or dinner party spread because you have no idea how much salt (or sugar!) went into that pasta dish. 

“Guestimating” works because it gives you a general sense of your calorie count. But guestimators can run into trouble when they “round down,” shaving calories here and there. If you round your calories, you may end up consuming more than you think. The only person you’re cheating is yourself. 

The Ignorer who pays no attention to calories and focuses on “eating what’s good” is on solid ground with clean, whole foods. But challenges lurk because “what’s good” can be vague, and when stressed or frustrated, what’s good may be a “treat” of something sweet (cake), chewy (candy), salty (pretzels) or crunchy (chips) instead of real, whole foods. 

Whether you’re a counter or an estimator or you play it by ear, calories in are calories in. What we need to focus on more is calories out. 

Think of it like bad budgeting: in order to lose weight, you must run a deficit: Calories in must be less than calories out. For maintenance, of course, calories in must equal calories out. You can’t cheat your checkbook because the numbers don’t lie. So let’s shift the spotlight to the cals you burn. Here are some estimates for an hour workout for a 200-pound person (see more exercises courtesy of the Mayo Clinic): 

Low-impact aerobics: 455

Bowling: 273

Bicycling (10 mph) 364

Rollerblading 683

Running (5 mph) 755

Stairmaster 819

Walking (3.5 mph) 391

Other ways to zap cals: 

Invest in a good pedometer so you’re counting your steps each day. The rule of thumb is 10,000, which equals about 5 miles. If you’re not losing enough, take more steps. Inactive people walk about 3,000 SPD. Don’t be one of them.

Stand when you’re on the phone, reading, or working at your computer. Studies show that sitting for long periods of time is not good for your health and in fact can cancel out all that work at the gym. And too many of us (me included) spend too much of our time glued to our computers, tabs and smartphones. So stand up and even – God forbid – step away. And keep steppin’ for a bit. 

Next time you’re inclined to count calories or guestimate or ignore the numbers, base what you eat on the number of calories you’ll burn. Light activity = light breakfast, lunch and dinner. A half-hour of high-impact Zumba plus stretching and walking = heartier dining. Keep counting or guessing or whatever you’ve done, but beware of the downsides, and at the end of the day, make sure to run a deficit. In a week or a month, the losses will add up big time. Want to tailor a diet and exercise combo that works just for you? Book your consultation now. 

Have a Healthy Day! 
Robin