Yesterday, I felt like I was gonna burst out of my jeans. I’ve never felt so bloated and miserable without actually being sick. Ladies, you know what I’m talking about here – it was a fat pants day, all the way!
And you know what?
LOTS of people are having these kinds of problems right now. This week.
When Spring starts, all hell breaks loose in stomachs everywhere.
I see it every season, especially at the start of Spring and Fall. Patients who normally don’t experience digestion problems will start reporting heartburn, headaches, indigestion, constipation, irritability, and the queen of digestive distress – BLOATING.
Why is this so common this week? We can turn to Chinese Medicine for some wisdom on this weird seasonal phenomenon.
The Chinese tell us that the short two-week period between seasons is when the Earth Element is most active. Of the 5 Elements, Earth is the one that regulates digestion, keeps us rooted and stable, and makes sure we crave tonifying foods.
Maybe you’ve noticed you’re more hungry the past week or so? That’s your Earth element saying ‘feed me so I can keep you going’. Springtime demands nourishment for new growth. Not the kind of growth that puts on pounds or sprouts leaves.
You’re coming out of a dark, cold, inactive season into one that’s sunny, warmer and allows more movement and waking time. You’ll need more fuel for those more physical, energy-burning activities. A healthy digestive system will signal you to ‘load up’ for the work ahead.
The trouble starts as you give in to your bigger appetite. Your digestion says ‘whoa, hold on there, pal, I need to catch up’. Next thing you know, you end up bloated and stuck very quickly.
What’s the remedy for this temporary backup? Probably not extreme dieting or over-the-counter anti-gas products, which can throw a delicate system into even more imbalance.
Instead, try one or more of these Spring Bloat Busters:
- Fennel seed tea – boil 1 Tbsp of fennel seed (yep, you’ve probably got this in your spice cabinet) in 1-2 cups water for 15 minutes. Strain the fennel seeds and drink the ‘decoction’ (tea). By morning, most of the bloating should be relieved.
- Epsom salts – Run a bathtub full of warm water or fill a shallow bucket with warm water and add 1-2 cups Epsom salts (if you like essential oils, you can find lavender or eucalyptus scented salts in any pharmacy). Soak yourself or just your feet for up to 30 minutes, enjoy a good night’s sleep and feel relief when you wake up.
- Digestive Teas – one of my all-time favorite teas is Eater’s Digest, created by a company called Traditional Medicinals and formulated by herbalists. This blend isn’t just delicious – it’s medicinal. With peppermint, fennel, ginger and other ‘carminative’ herbs [a fancy term for digestion-mover] this is the tea for ‘fussy’ tasters. My kids instinctively choose this tea in the evening, probably because it helps soothe their stomachs after a big meal.
- Go Chinese – for stubborn digestive systems that don’t respond to simple remedies, Chinese herbal formulas will gently strengthen the Earth element while stimulating ‘chi’, blood and fluid to move. Many people feel a gentle bump in energy when they take the formula that’s right for their constitution. Ask an herbalist what formula is for you.
- Eat green and bitter – pucker up baby, ‘cuz bitter, leafy greens like kale, beet greens, mustard greens, chard, spinach, dark salad lettuces contain digestion-stimulating elements that increase bile production. Bile breaks down stubborn food congestion, unclogs you and gets your gut moving again.
- Hold your horses – pull back the reins on those heavy, winter-style meals. Load up instead on vegetables, berries and lighter fare like chicken, fish and meatless meals.
- Move it – Expansion and contraction of muscle is a natural way to squeeze out gas and relieve bloating. Yoga, walking and simple stretching work equally well. I remember giggling in a yoga class when the ‘wind-relieving pose’ did exactly that for the guy on the mat next to me!
Without doing something radical, my jeans fit more like normal today. A few simple practices like the ones listed here, and a good walk this morning straightened me right out.
There’s no need to suffer with abdominal bloating and indigestion. Try a simple, natural remedy first. If the problem persists, get ahold of me and we’ll talk it through until we discover what’s best for you.
Find answers to more of your digestion questions in this related blog – Has Your Digestion Taken a Vacation?
8 seconds. That’s how long I scrolled on Facebook to find a blog/link/post about the latest unhealthy food. Then, when I Googled the phrase ‘bad food’, I got 2.1 billion search results. Billion!
Food-fear is nothing new.
In the 70’s, we were warned that fat was bad for our arteries, so Mom switched us to margarine instead of butter. Remember how that margarine thing worked out?
Then, my dad’s doctor warned him against too much salt, so out the door that went. And forget about eggs. No way. Big killer.
In the 80’s, we counted calories, to drop the weight from the processed foods that replaced the evil fats we cut out in the 70’s.
In the 90’s, convenience was king, and we threw out all the rules and enjoyed our fast food lunches crammed into our 10-hour workdays. Life was all about success and big houses and keeping up with the Joneses.
Honestly, I don’t remember all the food fads over the past 40 years (and excuse me if I mixed up my decades), but some pretty lousy advice has been handed down under the guise of ‘research’ from food manufacturers, healthcare providers, and mass media.
I feel so guilty eating practically everything these days. Every food on the shelves, in the CSA box, or from the garden, has been so demonized.
Even something as purely healthy as an egg gets analyzed, researched, and questioned, until someone comes up with a ludicrous list of qualifications a simple egg should meet to enter our mouths:
- Omega-3 enhanced (what in the world did those poor chickens have to go through to qualify?)
- Gluten-free (seriously?)
- Farm-raised – is ANY farm strict enough to meet this standard?
- Local (that’s always nice, I guess)
- Fresh (doesn’t that go without saying?)
Once upon a time, eggs came in 4 sizes and by-the-dozen only.
Remember when the only bread choice we considered was homemade or store-bought? Now we worry about gluten, whole-grain, trans fats vs polyunsaturated ones, and food coloring. Since when does bread need to be colored?
For just one meal, I want to eat without running through the pedigree of my meal. I know I should be buying my food from local, organic farmers with free-range animal products and environmentally sustainable practices. I fully support these practices, but this takes an enormous amount of time. And a good plan.
And I’m working on it, little by little. I started by shopping the organic section of my grocery stores, reading food and farming blogs, and I’m finally going to join a CSA this Spring and see what THAT’S all about.
But for now, I’d like to pour a bowl of oatmeal without worrying about whether it’s organic or gluten-free, and top it with walnuts without wondering if they’re covered in pesticides, and mix it up with some organic milk that might not be from a farm nearby, and top it off with dried cranberries that probably have some sugar added because I couldn’t find the unsweetened ones I’m supposed to buy.
It would be a little slice of heaven to enjoy a warm spoonful of breakfast and not for a split second wonder if the grain is genetically modified.
I love to eat, but we’ve taken all the fun out of eating in our culture. Food is a minefield of potential cancer-causing, inflammation-inducing terror. No wonder everyone is so confused and stressed about what to feed their families.
Today, for just one meal, eat without guilt, or fear, or disappointment. Before you start your new eating habits – low fat, high fat, low sugar, no sugar, vegetarian, paleo, vegan, grass-fed – enjoy that juicy steak and baked potato smothered in gravy with a side of delicious, and sugary, gluten-laden pie for dessert with a smile on your face.
Life is stressful enough. Enjoy your food, even if it’s not the most healthy thing you’ve had this week. Then tomorrow, pick just one thing to do differently. Eat a little less, skip dessert, add a vegetable to your plate without worrying about who grew it. You’ll get there. It’s a process. One step at a time.
Staying healthy through a season of cold, flus and stubborn respiratory viruses doesn’t have to mean staying isolated from people or taking a handful of supplements every day with a wish and a prayer. It can be as simple as pausing throughout the day for a cup of tea.
When your co-workers are sneezing, coughing and calling in sick, and the kids are home from school with the flu, you can stay well just by enjoying your own blends of gentle herbal tea.
Herbal teas can keep your digestion on track, even out the stresses of the day and help you get better sleep, all of which have a major impact on optimal immune health.
The rhythm of taking herbs throughout the day is a practice that smoothes out the edges of structured, over-scheduled lives, releases tension, introduces subtle flavor and gently heals you before you’ve gotten too far out of balance.
Start your morning with a fermented tea like pu erh, with it’s rich, earthy scent that clears the morning’s mental fog, stimulates metabolism and gets a sluggish gut gently moving. It’s a nudge to the digestive system to wake up, stretch out and get moving.
Late morning, when you’re well into the day’s projects, steep some holy basil (you might know this one as tulsi) or green tea to keep your thinking clear and the mind alert to new ideas. Green tea has hundreds of health benefits, one of which is the ability to gently energize without over-stimulating. Treat yourself to a high-quality tea that’s organically grown and ethically harvested.
A second cup of green tea is a mild mid-afternoon pick-me-up, especially when it shares a saucer with a snack of nuts or dried fruit, just enough to hold you to dinner and not enough to spoil it.
When you’re home and settling in after dinner, encourage good digestion with chamomile, orange peel, fennel, ginger or peppermint teas. Later, whether it’s time for a favorite hobby, catching up with a friend, or supervising homework, make a family tea to wind down the mind with linden, lemon balm or lavender.
There’s an herbal tea for any time of day, all year long. Winter is the ideal time to add warm herbs like sage, cinnamon and thyme to any blend you’re infusing. Keeping your body warm protects against the chill that makes you vulnerable to fatigue and illness.
Directions: To make a healing cup of herbal tea any time of day, scoop 1 tsp. of a single herb or your favorite blend into a tea infuser, pour hot water to cover, let it steep 4-5 minutes, then remove the herbs and slowly sip, sniff and close your eyes for a moment.
If you’d like to try your hand at blending your own teas, start by ordering ¼ lb. of a few herbs that sound appealing to you. If you click on the Mountain Rose Herbs icon to the right of this blog, you can visit the place where I order loose teas and tea supplies, and shop for a few of your own.
My favorite infuser is the Celestial Tea Strainer. It nestles snuggly inside my favorite tea mug and lifts out easily without dripping or leaving loose herbs floating – though I really don’t mind floaty herbs – watching the leaves swirl in my cup is kinda Zen….
The blend I’m sipping one or two times a day right now is a mix of red clover, oat straw, lemon balm, lavender, motherwort, hawthorn leaf and rose petal. My favorite packaged tea blends come from Good Earth, Yogi, Numi and Pukka.
What’s your favorite herbal tea blend? What time of day do you drink tea? Who taught you about the joy of drinking herbal tea? Share your comments below.
Ok, go get your tea on! And have a very Herbal Holiday!
Related Post: An Ounce of Prevention and a Pinch of Attention
The common pickle is a naturally healthy probiotic
Have you ever had a food craving for something so strange that you almost can’t admit it?
I have a secret like that.
I love pickled food, and the more sour and vinegar-y, the better. I’m one of those people who puts pickled beets on salad and eats them right from the jar. Sauerkraut? Love it. Especially with a meaty sausage and tangy mustard. Pickled herring was a favorite of my dad’s growing up, so I learned to appreciate that early on.
These days, everyone is talking about yeast and candida and all sorts of bothersome digestion problems. Most of these problems occur because stress, antibiotics or a diet of processed foods upset the balance of healthy bacteria in our bodies.
Eating a small portion of some sort of pickled or fermented food every day helps repopulate the ‘beneficial’ bacteria so normal digestive functions have a fighting chance.
Eating that pickle next to your restaurant hamburger could help you avoid an upset stomach, gas, bloating, diarrhea, reflux or heartburn later tonite.
The reason I’m coming out with my secret is I know now there’s no shame in craving pickled food. I have to thank Jennifer Wilford, the self-described ‘real food advocate’, who taught me 8 great reasons to eat fermented foods during a class last weekend.
Jennifer explained that pickling is not only coming back into vogue, it’s also an old-fashioned way to introduce natural probiotics into the diet. A couple generations ago, this was common knowledge.
I won’t share all Jennifer’s secrets, but she did share that the process of pickling, which is pretty darn easy by the way, encourages the growth of a plethora of gut-friendly bacteria – especially lactobacillus. Try saying that three times fast!
And get this: because a huge majority of immune system action happens in the gut, a larger colony of friendly bacteria down there can even improve your protection from illnesses going around this winter. How ’bout that?
Guess what else happens in the gut? Most of your body’s seratonin – a neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation – is made there. Improve your mood just by eating a little condiment-sized serving of sauerkraut. If you’re salt sensitive, try kefir, yogurt, kombucha, sourdough bread, or sour cream. Read more about this in my November 2012 newsletter.
Holistic health doesn’t have to be complicated. It can even save you money when you replace expensive bottled digestive enzymes and probiotics with natural ones made from whole foods like cabbage and beets.
Want to know how to ferment your own foods at home? Jennifer recommended Fermented by Jill Ciciarelli [here’s a link – http://amzn.to/1auQOaF].
As an herbalist, I like to pair probiotics with herbs for patients suffering from chronic yeast and urinary tract infections. Tasty natural probiotic foods can help you avoid the side effects of antibiotic use, such as loose stools and yeast infections.
I told you my secret craving. What’s yours? Leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fresh goodies from your farmer’s market tempt tastebuds
Why don’t more people shop at farmer’s markets? Heck, why don’t I shop there more often?
After last weekend, I’ve concluded that the only possible answer is this: habit. I’m just not in the habit of stopping at more than one place for groceries.
The thing is, the food at these neighborhood markets is so ridiculously cheap and fresh, I almost feel like I’m cheating someone. But really, I’m only cheating myself by not taking advantage of it more often.
Every time I walk into the deep freeze they call a grocery store these days, I wonder why I didn’t start at the market.
White and red radishes for 75 cents a bunch, spinach for $1, huge bundles of turnip and mustard greens for $1 (don’t know what to do with them? Click here for a photo and recipe).
Here’s what I discovered about the farmer’s market this weekend:
7 BEST THINGS ABOUT YOUR LOCAL FARMER’S MARKET:
1- You can find a farmer’s market almost every day of the week somewhere in your city [Omaha peeps, scroll down for a listing].
2- A $20 bill gets you enough veggies and meat protein for two people for at least 3 days.
3- Talk to the guy/girl who grew your food. It’s almost a little humbling to realize how much we depend on these gracious growers.
4- Eat your groceries while you’re still shopping. That’s how we discovered the white radishes are less spicy than the red ones.
5- You find out what’s in season, and discover that seasonal eating is healthier eating. [Here’s a link to a recent blog explaining why]
6- Fresh-picked food (within 2-3 days of market) has SO much more taste/flavor than supermarket food. Hands down.
7- Even if you don’t buy anything, you’ll be entertained. Street musicians, crowds of interesting people and pets, and displays of local crafts made my visit last weekend SWEET!
And now, here’s a listing of Omaha area farmer’s markets. Go get some fresh food today!
- May 18 – September 14, Washington Park on Franklin Street at West 20th Avenue, Bellevue
- May 4 – September 28, Military Avenue at Maple Street
- July 10 — October 2, 2915 Grant Street
- June 2 – September 29, 9102 North 30th Street
- May – September, Corner of 9th Avenue and South Main Street, Council Bluffs
- May 5 — October 20, 67th and Center
- May 4 — October 19, 11th & Jackson Streets
- June 5 – September 18, 1st Street Plaza located off 84th and 1st Street in Downtown Papillion (New Location in 2013!)
- May 1 – September 25, Parking garage next to Wohlner’s at 33rd and Dodge
- May 4 – October 5, 168th & Dodge
Shop, chop and eat green with Farmer’s Market goodies
Ok, so I didn’t follow a recipe; I followed my tastebuds. And my mouth was watering for the taste of cumin, curry and salt. Here’s what I put together for today’s lunch/dinner after my farmer’s market visit yesterday.
8 Cups mixed greens (kale, mustard and turnip are good)
1 Tbsp. ghee (clarified butter)
1 tsp. cumin seed
1/4 tsp curry powder
2/3 cup chopped tempeh
1/4 tsp garam masala spice mix
1″ sliced and chopped ginger root
1 cup carrots, thinly sliced
1-2 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
Herb seasoning to taste
In a large pot, bring water to boil, add and submerge greens and sliced carrots, cooking 7-10 minutes until bright, colorful and tender. Strain and set aside. In a wok or large skillet, add ghee and cumin seed and cook on medium heat until aroma of cumin emerges (about 1-2 mins). Continue to stir, adding tempeh, ginger and remaining spices, until tempeh is golden brown. Add drained, cooked greens and sesame oil to taste, heating through. Serve immediately and season to taste with herb mix. Optional: add black beans or onion while cooking tempeh.
Makes enough for 2 individual meals.
Summer berries eaten in season offer the most health benefits
My guest blogger, Jen Allen, shares what she discovered about herself, and primitive man, when she started eating seasonally. If you’re a fan of summer fruit, her blog will give you even more reason to load up on seasonal delights like strawberries. Now’s the perfect time!
For most of my adult life I knew that eating seasonally was a good idea to save money at the grocery store. It wasn’t until I took a series of classes with a local nutritionist that I learned the real magic of eating seasonally through the lens of Chinese medicine.
Eating seasonally gives the body the right nutrients in one season to help prepare it to be healthy in the next season. It offers the right organs a rest in one season to help prepare those specific organs for the next season. A year of eating seasonally provides whole body health improvements that you may have been struggling with otherwise. That perspective gave me a whole new appreciation for the delightful early summer treat of strawberries.
Strawberries are the first fruit that appear on the landscape in early summer. If you’re eating seasonally, you’ve just come out of a “fruitless” winter and a spring where salad greens and asparagus have dominated your plate. Your first bite of a ripe strawberry tastes like a sweet dessert! And that’s quite a miracle considering that strawberries rank at the bottom when it comes to sugar content.
Anthropologically, the strawberry is meant to be the gateway to a summer of slightly higher sugar content than the other seasons due to the continual supply of seasonal fruit like watermelon and raspberries and ending with apples in the fall. It prepares the body to handle just a few more carbohydrates in preparation for the coming winter. Anthropologists believe this helped the body put on a little extra layer of fat to help paleolithic man get through winter without freezing. Winter was a time of scarcity during which that little extra layer of fat meant the difference between survival and death.
Fortunately, surviving the winter is less of a concern these days, but a healthy body and strong immunity are not. When you take a closer look at the nutrition profile of a strawberry, you’ll find that just 100 grams contains 98% of your recommended amount of vitamin C. Based on serving size, only blackberries and walnuts contain more antioxidents.
Here are my tips for maximizing your strawberry experience:
- Only purchase strawberries when they are in season, which is the month of June in the Midwest. They taste the best and cost the least.
- Purchase organic strawberries when possible because conventional strawberries rank among the highest in pesticide residues.
- Grow a little patch of strawberries in a sunny spot in your yard. They are easy to take care of, and freshly picked strawberries contain the highest levels of nutrients.
- Think twice about U-Pick strawberry farms. Be sure to ask them about the pesticides they use. It’s hard to manage acres of strawberries without them, and gorging on their strawberries can give you a high dose.
What about strawberry recipes, you ask? Nah, just eat the strawberry. Whole. Savor the taste. Appreciate the season. Share a bowl with a loved one that doesn’t mind your company with strawberry juice dripping down your chin. That’s the best strawberry recipe!
Jennifer Allen is a local food rights advocate and food educator. Her passion is helping to connect consumers with farmers. I’ll update you on her new blog when it’s released later this year. In the meantime you can find her at www.meetup.com/realfoodomaha and https://www.facebook.com/omaha-paleo#!/groups/whole30omaha/.
A gentleman brought his 94 year old mother to me asking for help with her 4 months of bowel incontinence, which was making her miserable and exhausted, not to mention the loss of dignity that goes with that sort of thing.
Her doctors had prescribed all sorts of medications, but nothing worked and she was getting weaker every day. In my office, she covered up with her winter coat, looking frail and pale, but I could see the feisty woman she really was underneath the weariness.
A warmer diet for a weakened person can make all the difference
One solution jumped out at me right away, but I questioned whether her caregivers at the nursing home would get on board.
I suggested the staff hold off on serving her fruit juices, cold fruit, iced tea and cottage cheese, all of which are known to contribute to loose stools and digestive problems for those with the TCM pattern of Spleen Qi Deficiency.
It’s a clinical term that describes a pattern of disharmony in Traditional Chinese Medicine. People with this pattern have sometimes been weakened by a long period of stress like an illness (my patient had suffered a stroke), or excessive cold, damp foods, or both. In her case, a very long life even by today’s standards, contributed a large degree to her deficiency patterns.
A week later, the patient’s son called to say that even before starting the course of herbs I recommended, she was 50% better. The staff was shocked at how much just a simple diet change, including warmer foods, soups and hot teas, did to improve her quality of living.
Holistic healing isn’t always about taking an herb or supplement. It takes into account everything from lifestyle factors to diet and even spiritual practices. Even a minor adjustment like the temperature of your food can make a big difference in the whole you.
Could there be one simple practice that needs a tiny little turn-of-the-dial in your life or the life of someone close to you?
Healthy cleansing can be the push you need to better health
Below is a guest blog that started as an enthusiastic email from a friend who was tired of being ‘stuck’ in her old patterns, and found a way to break through after a couple weeks of seasonal cleansing. With some light editing of exclamation points, I’ll let her tell the story…
I was recently guided to attend one of Mo’s classes – a Spring cleanse. What a good idea, I thought. Get a little healthier, feel a little better, you know…the usual. Little did I know that this 2 week cleanse would completely change my life – healing my unhealthy patterns at a very deep level – and giving me a renewed sense of self.
The class turned out to be a cooking class, meant to prepare us for this 2 week, nearly vegan life-style. Mo, by showing us the actual “to-do’s”, empowered us to go find the healthiest foods we could, and re-engage with our kitchens. And her enthusiasm and commitment to each of us was contagious.
It was tough, but because I’m married to an amazing man who also loves to cook (and who realized quickly that life was simply going to be easier by getting on board with this one). We made our collective way through it. I won’t give the details of everything this diet pushed us through in this blog (but perhaps over a healthy lunch??) but on the other side of 2 weeks….here’s what we are experiencing: my diarrhea (my companion for the last 20 or so years) is completely gone. We’re both sleeping through the night (rare!). My husband’s snoring….gone. He’s lost 13 pounds, I’ve lost 7, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Seriously, the energy that we are experiencing and the way our new bodies feel has changed us. We can never go back to drinking wine nearly every single night. Miracle of miracles, the desire is gone! Who knew? And who wants a huge chunk of beef in their stomachs now? Not us. Of course, we’re enjoying these things again, but in moderation as opposed to gluttony. We’re the “all in” types….enough said. The way our bodies feel now has actually become our dietary compass, and it’s joyful!
Last but certainly not least, because I’m getting a full night’s sleep, I’m getting up earlier, finding time for breakfast again, and have gotten back into a morning meditation practice – something I haven’t had in my life for years.
We are changed…
Carolyn and Kurt Johnson
Seasonal cleansing is a gentle and safe way to bring about subtle (or in Carolyn’s case, not-so-subtle) change when you’re feeling stuck or stagnant. It could turn out to be just the nudge you needed to break a bad habit and start some new ones. Take cleansing to a holistic new healthy level – schedule a personal visit with me 402.933.6444 or gather a group for a class at your school, church or workplace. Email email@example.com for more information.
Like mother, like daughter, when it comes to health
“Overall, I’m liking the cleanse a lot more than I thought I would, and I feel really great,” said the email message from my daughter – my Starbucks-drinking, Chipotle-eating, meal-skipping daughter. This is the same girl who turned up her nose as a kid when I dished out green vegetables.
When they were growing up, my kids always thought I was a little weird, trying new foods, practicing yoga, not like other moms. “What’s she doing now?” they must have been thinking. Now my daughters are asking me to send them herbs at college and gently offering tea and chinese herbs to their sick roommates. And this cleanse thing has apparently caught on…
It started when she put in a request for “that cleanse stuff” over the Christmas holiday. I thought she was humoring me, since her sister and I were making plans to cook yummy Winter Cleanse recipes over break. But this was serious business, I soon learned.
I humored her back by sending a list of cleanse-friendly foods, herbs and recommendations like ‘get a massage’ and ‘let yourself rest’. I figured there way no way was she gonna take this seriously, so I didn’t bother to lecture about sticking to it, the importance of discipline and how to forgive herself for sneaking chocolate.
To my surprise, she emailed me a 300-word description of her cleanse experience that sounded like the perfect testimonial for everything she’s ever heard me say about health.
Now, she’s one-upped me by downloading an app to track daily percentages of protein, carb and fat consumption. She’s using words like bean burger and ‘getting creative about cooking’. Seriously. Ask anyone. This girl hates to cook.
It just goes to show that your kids, no matter how much they object to your healthy choices and green foods, really do listen and pick up a few pointers along the way.
And we learn from them, too. Time to download that app.