Busy yet balanced

February has been a busy month for me, but one of my goals is to write more on Vitamin Valentine.  This month has been filled with school assignments (I’m working on my master’s thesis) and some very exciting (yet nerve-racking) professional developments.  I submitted my dietetic internship applications this month and I’m hoping to get accepted into an internship.  If you’re new to my blog, I’ve been working on a B.S./M.S. in Nutrition for the past four years in order to become a Registered Dietitian (RD).  It’s extremely competitive to get into a dietetic internship (DI) and completing the DI is a requirement of the education and training to become an RD, so I’m hoping I match.  Nutrition is my passion and I hope to get into an internship in order to gain the knowledge necessary to help people.  Registered Dietitians are truly the experts in the nutrition field because of the training and education they receive.  I’ve dreamt of becoming an RD for so long, so wish me luck!

Because I’ve been so busy lately, I’ve been finding ways to save time when it comes to preparing healthy food.  Sometimes I make a big batch of food and eat the same thing for lunch for a few days during the week, and other times I try to mix it up.  Either way, I try to stick with the same formula for making my meals as balanced and colorful as possible.  I try to include at least two veggies, a source of protein, and a healthy fat.  Sometimes I’ll also add some whole grains, but today I skipped that component.  For a “side dish” or snack, I usually stick to fruit or a protein bar.  Lunch today was so colorful and delicious.  It consisted of a purple potato on top of collard greens, 1/2 a medium avocado, some cherry tomatoes, and a serving of hummus.  For my snacks, I had a fruit salad (sliced papaya, kiwi, and pineapple) and a gomacro bar (a vegan protein bar).  I also took an apple with me but I decided to save it for another time.

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Delicious, colorful, and easy!

It took me about 10 minutes in total to prepare this.  Instead of baking the potato, I put it in the microwave, which saves a lot of time.  I love preparing my meals ahead of time like this, especially because when I’m hungry at work it’s so tempting to go out and buy something.  Do you have any ways to save time or money while staying healthy?  Feel free to share below, or connect with me via facebook or instagram @vitaminvalentine

-Jess

Bye to 2016 and the winter blues

Happy 2017!  I hope everyone had a healthy and happy new years celebration.  I was going to write a post about making new years resolutions, but this year I decided to not make any new years resolutions. I decided not to try to make any specific goals for the next year for two reasons: 1.  I think it’s easier to work on short-term goals, without using the calendar year as motivation 2.  Northeastern winters don’t exactly scream “LET’S GET MOTIVATED!” to me.  Instead, today I’m sharing some tips about improving your mood during these cold months.  I decided to share some things that have helped me stay happy and sane during winter because I’ve noticed that every year I start to feel less like my usual upbeat self as soon as November/December rolls around.  While I don’t personally suffer from full-blown seasonal affective disorder (SAD, so aptly abbreviated), it’s always a good idea to consult a mental health professional if you feel your mood going seriously sour during any time of the year.  If you feel like you just need an extra happiness boost during the winter, here are some things that have helped me.

My Winter Mood-Improving Habits

  1. Get outside!

Unless you live close to the equator, your skin gets less exposure to sunlight during the winter (in the northern hemisphere).  Sunlight is important because it’s a major source of vitamin D.  Vitamin D has effects on the hypothalamus which regulates sleep, hunger, and other factors that influence mood.

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These ducks have the right idea, although I didn’t take a dip into the frigid water, I did take this photo on a chilly winter walk

Another reason to get outside is just to enjoy the outdoors.  Although being outside during the winter requires some extra layers, being amongst nature has so many benefits, both for the mind and body.  Try going for a walk outside a few times a week (for the most benefits, aim for mid-day, especially when it’s sunny out).  If you’re feeling more adventurous, go ice-skating, skiing, or snow-shoeing if you live in a snowy climate.

2.  Eat (healthy) carbs!

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a toasted whole-grain bagel with a healthy fat, such as melted natural peanut butter makes for a deliciously warming winter breakfast

Complex carbs can health boost serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that influences mood.  I feel best when I stick to minimally processed whole grains and avoid white flour. Examples of complex carbs include sweet potatoes, brown rice, whole grains and 100% whole grain breads.  Paying attention to portion size is important.  It’s easy to over-do pasta, bread, and rice, especially because these foods can be so comforting.

3. Exercise

I love moving all year round!  Exercise always puts me in a good mood. If you can’t exercise outside, indoors is just as good.  I try to exercise daily for 30-60 minutes, or at least most days.  New to exercise?  Try to find something that you enjoy and that you’re willing to commit to.  Walking, running, yoga, weightlifting all count.

4. Sleep, but not too much

It’s so tempting to sleep more during the winter and go into “hibernation mode”, but I’ve found that (for me) this makes me feel lazy which then affects my mood.  Instead of staying in bed all day, try to get moving and accomplish one productive thing a day.  Oversleeping can be a symptom of depression, so if you find yourself preferring to stay in bed for an excessive amount of time and you also feel symptoms of hopelessness and apathy, it’s important to talk to someone.

5.  Participate in life

Sometimes during winter, I feel like hibernating and going into my shell, but I’ve noticed that this makes me feel down and withdrawn.  Find an engaging hobby that will keep your mind active.  Social support is also vitally important, so make some time for friends and family.

These are just some simple things that have helped me.  I hope you feel amazing today and every day of this winter season 🙂

Rest and a Fresh Recipe

Have you ever changed your diet and felt amazing…only to go back to how you were eating and feeling before?  It can be hard to stick with eating healthy, even if we feel the benefits.  I often wonder why this is, and I’ve noticed that for me I’m a creature of habit and habits are hard to change, especially when you’ve been doing something or eating something for so long.

I mentioned in early August that I was taking a break from drinking coffee.  I quit coffee cold turkey and was coffee-free for over 35 days until I decided to indulge in an iced coffee. For the next week, I was drinking about a cup of coffee in the AM.  I also got on average about 4 hours of sleep each night that I had drank coffee in the morning.  Although caffeine shouldn’t affect my sleep so much, it does and I came to the conclusion that I’ve become extremely sensitive to caffeine and (for me) it just isn’t worth it any more.

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Of course I documented my iced coffee indulgence!

I’m happy I realized coffee was affecting me in a negative way instead of drinking even more coffee to make up for lack of sleep, which is something I used to do on a daily basis.  I’m also happy to share what I learned during this self-realization coffee experiment: don’t beat yourself up!  If you slip up on a health goal, diet, or exercise routine, etc., instead of berating yourself and feeling like poo, simply note the difference in how you physically, mentally, and emotionally feel when you’re doing something good for yourself vs. how you feel when you do something that doesn’t benefit your overall health.  Then, decide which feelings you’d rather feel.  In my case, if I kept drinking coffee, I’d probably feel energized for a few hours, but ultimately miss out on sleep and feel really tired at work, in class, and during my free time.

Being coffee-free also made me realize the importance of eating energizing foods.  I pride myself on practicing what I preach, but sometimes quick convenience foods are an easy option that I rely on.  These foods are ok in a pinch, but real, wholesome, unprocessed foods provide so much more.  I’ve decided to share a delicious meal filled with fresh veggies that I made recently.  It took me about 10 minutes to make the entire meal and it’s packed with fiber, lycopene, vitamin A, vitamin C, and deliciousness.

Zucchini Noodles with Tomato-“Cheez” Sauce

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Ingredients (serves 1-2):

  • 1 large zucchini
  • 2 vine-ripe tomatoes (or use about 1-1.5 cups of ripe cherry tomatoes)
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. oregano
  • 1/4 tsp. basil
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of pepper
  • 5 kalamata olives
  • 1/4 cup raw cashews

Directions: * you will need a food processor and a vegetable spiralizer (or buy spiralized zucchini at a supermarket)

  • Spiralize the zucchini into spaghetti-shaped noodles and set in a bowl or plate
  • Using a food processor, blend the tomatoes, spices, cashews, and olives together for about 3-5 minutes, or until a sauce consistency appears
  • Top the noodles with the sauce and use whatever garnish appeals to you
  • Enjoy, and take care of yourself!

 

-Jess

Spring Super Smoothie

Today is the first day of spring and I’m excited! I love spring because it signifies new beginnings. As you go through your day today, try to meditate on what it is you’d like to start doing today, this week, this month, this season, or even this year. Now is a great time to dive into some exciting plans to improve your life.

For me personally, I’m going to try to eat more greens everyday. Even though I do eat vegetables every day, I’ve noticed that I could incorporate more nutrient-dense greens into my favorite meals. To get started on my new goal, I’ve created a deliciously healthy smoothie packed with nutrition. This is a green smoothie similar to what I’ve posted in much earlier blog posts but with a few twists. Feel free to try this smoothie and give me some feedback because I love hearing from my readers! You can email me, write a comment, or get in touch via facebook or instagram @vitaminvalentine 🙂

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  • 2 cups chopped kale
  • 1 banana, fresh or frozen, cut into chunks
  • 3/4 cup frozen or fresh mango
  • 6 oz. plain So Delicious Greek Coconut Yogurt (this is my favorite non-dairy yogurt because it has extra fiber and a unique texture that is great for smoothies, but if you prefer a different kind, use whatever you’d like)
  • 1 cup unsweetened plain or vanilla almondmilk
  • 1 tsp. spirulina powder (optional)

Cut and prepare fruits and kale. Measure almond milk and other ingredients. Add all to a blender and blend well until liquified. This smoothie is on the thick side, so if you want, you can add water or a little more almond milk. This can either serve one or two people depending on how hungry you are. Enjoy and keep in mind: what can you start doing today?

-Jess

I’m a Yoga Teacher!

The title says it all! Last weekend I taught my first big group yoga class held at a yoga studio. It was an amazing day :). My friends and some family were there plus a few other people who just wanted to donate to a wonderful cause while experiencing the amazing joys and benefits of yoga. All of the proceeds of this donation-based yoga class will go to God’s Love We Deliver, a charity that prepares and delivers nutritious meals to critically ill individuals in the NY-Metro Area.

This class was so special to me because of what I chose to focus on: limitless love, or put another way, unconditional love for oneself and others. The weeks leading up to this yoga class were kind of stressful. From december to early february I was suffering with a cough that didn’t seem get better with rest, fluids, lots of vitamin C, and a big dose of antibiotics. I hate being sick, so it was stressful and annoying to be dealing with an illness. Then a few weeks before the original date of my yoga class we had a big snow storm so the class had to be rescheduled. Then, the rescheduled date had to be rescheduled for other reasons, so I was getting frustrated. I was also getting frustrated with other people who had no control over any of these situations. The night before the class, I meditated on what I’ve learned from practicing yoga and what I wish to share through my practice and teaching.

 I realized before my yoga class that sometimes we get so caught up in things we can’t control and get angry, annoyed, and frustrated, but holding onto those negative feelings just makes things worse. I realized that all of the events leading up to this class were actually showing me that I needed to focus on the message of my yoga practice: limitless love for all things and people, especially when things don’t go as planned. 

The stress leading up to the class wasn’t so bad because it made me realize the importance of acceptance. It ended up being an amazing experience and I think everyone in the class felt the same. The feedback I received from the class made me so proud and I realized how much I absolutely love teaching yoga. I can’t wait to teach more and I’m excited for the weather to get warmer because I have big plans that combine nature + yoga (my favorite things besides cooking nutritious and delicious things!)  If you’re interested in learning more about the yoga sessions I provide, click the “services offered” tab above. I hope to hear back so that I can share my passion and spread the love with yoga.

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Me and my sister with our post-yoga glow 

Namaste,

Jess

 

 

The Power of Planning

Do you ever find yourself coming home after a long day, hungry for dinner, and stuffing your face with whatever you can find in the fridge? I confess–I’ve done this in the past, especially when my schedule has been jam-packed. But I’ve found a solution and I learned about it from…instagram.

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What 4 days of pre-planned healthy eating looks like to Vitamin Valentine

One of the keys to feeling in control of your diet and health is having a plan. For quite a while instead of having a plan of what I was going to eat, I allowed my hunger to rule my food choices. Luckily, I’m a pretty healthy eater but even healthy eaters can overindulge in healthy food which can lead to feeling guilty and being physically overfull.

I became aware of the hashtag “mealprep” on instagram and it really made me curious. Beautiful images of people preparing a weeks worth of healthy, colorful, protein-packed lunches, dinners, and snacks appealed to both my senses and my love of nutrition. It made complete sense to me to cook and prepare most, if not all, of my meals for the work week.

The benefits

There are so many benefits to preparing your meals ahead of time.  First, it saves you a ton of money. Before I started preparing my meals for the week, I would usually buy a sandwich or a salad at Trader Joe’s or another health food store by my work which added up to about $6-$10 every day just on lunch. I would also either make a different meal every night (which I enjoyed doing but it required me to purchase a lot of different ingredients each week), or I would sometimes go to my favorite health food store for their organic deli options, which isn’t cheap.

Another benefit to preparing your meals ahead of time is how it allows you to control your portions and make sure you are getting in your daily needs for fruits, veggies, lean protein, dairy or dairy alternative, healthy fats, and whole grains. It’s not always easy to make the wisest choice when you’re hungry and in the moment, so preparing ahead of time takes away some of that temptation and is also helpful in avoiding impulse buys (there have been many times when I’ve bought a chocolate bar at Trader Joe’s to go with my sandwiches).

Another benefit is the amount of time it saves. Dedicating one day of the week (usually sunday night for me) to preparing the meals for the week saves me so much time during the week. Each week I decide what I would like to eat for lunch and what I would like to eat for dinner for the next 4-5 days. I usually try to keep “staple” ingredients (like whole wheat pasta, brown rice, sweet potatoes, healthy dressings and sauces, beans, fresh fruit, etc.) in the house and I usually veggies and other protein sources on the weekends in preparation for meal-prep sunday. Another way meal-prepping saves time is that since you’re cooking big batches of food, theres less daily dish washing and cleaning that needs to be done which is a big win because I don’t know anyone who enjoys washing dishes.

The one possible negative of preparing your meals ahead of time is the issue of boredom. If you’re someone who gets bored of eating the same thing every day then you’ll have to use a little creativity when planning ahead. Perhaps you can use the same staple foods but in different ways. Keep in mind, you don’t have to eat the same food every week because you’re only preparing the food a few days in advance. I also try to be more flexible on the weekends and usually one night a week I go out for dinner.

If you’ve decided to give meal-prepping a try, here are my tips:

  • First, decide what you want to eat during the week for Lunch. Do the same for dinner. The goal is to keep these meals as healthy as possible.
  • With that in mind, aim for a whole grain at lunch, a veggie (or two), and a protein at lunch. For dinner, you can also aim for a grain/veggie/protein but choose different foods. For instance, for your lunch you can make brown rice, sweet potato, kale, and beans plus 1-2 tbsp. of sauce or dressing. For dinner, try whole wheat pasta, broccoli and carrots, sautéed tofu and sauce.
  • Pay attention to calories. Sometimes planning ahead so much can actually make your caloric intake too low or too high. We all need different calorie amounts based on age, gender, activity level, etc. Calorie needs also vary each day depending on whether you’re mostly sitting all day or hitting the gym for an intense workout session. Tailor accordingly.
  • Read the labels. Check the serving size and then multiply by 4-5. For example, 1/4 cup of dry brown rice is one serving, so to make 4 servings, simply cook 1 cup of brown rice (make sure to adjust the water amount too).
  • For snacks, try packing 6 oz. containers of yogur or soy yogurt, protein bars or granola bars, fresh fruit, and carrots with dipping sauce (like hummus or salsa).
  • If you want to plan your breakfast too, feel free. Usually I eat oatmeal so I’m already used to eating the same thing every morning, but I try to do different things with my oats like adding different fruit, nut butters, cinnamon, or adding a little trail mix for a satisfying crunch.
  • Buy (or make sure you have) enough tupperware to pack 4-5 lunches, 4-5 dinners, and containers for your snacks. Don’t forget to pack utensils if you don’t have them at your work or while out and about!
  • Experiment and keep an open mind. Make notes about how you felt the week of eating went and what you can do to improve, whether it is cooking technique, sauces, and how the food kept. I like to cook ahead for 4-5 days but I probably wouldn’t cook food meant to be eaten past that because most healthy perishable food goes bad within 5 days of cooking it.
  • If you feel like you’re missing out or feel restricted, allow yourself a small treat every day. I like to eat a small piece of chocolate or a little sweet treat under 200 calories when my sweet tooth beckons.

If you’re a regular meal-prepper, or if you’re curious to try, feel free to comment. What are your experiences with preparing your meals ahead of time?  I would love to hear from you!

-Jess

Feel The Love With Yoga

Om Shanti! Which is my way of saying peace and welcome. I’m starting this post with my favorite sanskrit phrase because I’m going to write a personal update about yoga. I wrote a post in 2014 about how I was embarking on a new journey to become a certified yoga teacher. Although I’ve been teaching private yoga sessions to a few friends and classmates, my first group class at a yoga studio is in a few weeks and I couldn’t be more excited. The process of becoming a yoga teacher was an experience I will cherish forever. I learned so much beyond studying the asanas (physical poses of yoga) and I can’t wait to share everything yoga has taught me with people who attend my classes (or take private yoga sessions with me).

An integral component of my own practice and something I want to share with others through yoga is the idea of treating all people with love and kindness. Yoga teaches us how freeing it is to let go of your ego and do all things with an open heart because that is when we connect most deeply with ourselves and others. Because of this, I’ve decided to make my first yoga class focused on heart-openers, which are poses that stretch and expand the chest. I’m also donating all of the profits of this class to God’s Love We Deliver, a charity which cooks and delivers nutritious meals to those living with critical illness in the New York-Metropolitan area. This particular cause is special to me because of seeing first-hand just how important proper nutrition is to those who are ailing.

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The essence of yoga transcends the physical.

If you’ve never done yoga or if you haven’t had a truly enlightening experience, I encourage you to pick up a book on the philosophy of yoga and attend local yoga classes in your area until you find a community that makes you feel at home. Yoga is suitable for all people who wish to expand their consciousness through movement, better understand themselves, feel connected in a community, or for those who simply need to relax.

I plan on writing more about yoga and I will have an even more exciting announcement about yoga/wellness in the future so keep reading.

Update: a previous version of this post has the time, date, and location of my donation-based yoga class. To stay updated with details related to this class, follow vitamin valentine on Facebook and Instagram @vitaminvalentine, as there have been several changes related to this class.

Namaste ❤

-Jess