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

Sleep for Your Health: Some Sleep Hygiene Tips

As any health-conscious person knows, sleep is essential to feeling your best. Nearly everyone at some point in their lives has trouble sleeping. I sometimes wake up very early in the morning (like 3 AM-early), but I’ve found several strategies to help lull me to dreamland–and keep me there! Here are some tips I’ve learned on becoming relaxed to induce a night of zzz’s and a get full nights rest:

  1. This might sound like a no-brainer, but avoid coffee and any source of caffeine in the afternoon/evening hours. Even small amounts in chocolate and tea might have an effect on your system, so it’s best to avoid it. If you are a coffee drinker, try to stick with 1-2 cups in the morning and make it a goal to say “no” to that tempting mid-day iced coffee.
  2. Turn off any unnecessary electronics (i.e. TV, radio, computer), and keep your phone away from your bed when it’s time to go to sleep. Charge your phone away from your bed.
  3. Try to get outside or be around natural light in the daytime. This will help your body get more in tune with evolutionary-based circadian rhythms. Come nighttime, avoid bright lights and try to limit exposure to TV and computer screens.
  4. Even though you might be tired throughout the day, taking a long nap (longer than 30 minutes) might affect your sleep cycle and make it harder to fall asleep. Instead, try exercising or engaging in a physically or mentally stimulating activity to keep your energy up when you’re tired during the day.
  5. On the topic of exercise, find a time that works for you, and stick to it. Some people find that working out in the morning is not only more convenient, but sets the stage for a more energy-filled day. Others like to exercise at night. As long as it doesn’t prevent you from falling asleep, exercising at night should be fine. If you are indeed feeling a little pumped up after a PM workout, try taking a hot shower or bath to soothe and relax your muscles.
  6. If you’re sensitive to light while falling asleep, consider blackout curtains or an eye pillow.
  7. Pets are lovely, but if your dog or cat has a tendency to make your head its personal pillow at night, consider sleeping apart from your furry friend.
  8. If anxiety keeps you up at night, try to figure out what’s behind your worries. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy that can be done via specific self-help books or with a therapist, and involves changing cognitive distortions (or negative ways of thinking) that can lead to depression and anxiety. Also, journaling might be helpful to sort through your own thoughts. Try not to judge your own thoughts and instead let your thoughts flow from your mind to your pen to the paper. Then, see if you can find a pattern in your thinking.
  9. Get comfy. I’ve mentioned making sure your sleeping space is dark and distraction free. You can also use aromatherapy, massage, and yoga to relax your body and mind. Lavender, chamomile, and jasmine are some scents that can come in the form of essential oils and lotions, and really do help one to relax. Yoga poses along with breathing exercises can help connect your brain to your body in a relaxing, healing way.

    a yoga mat, essential oil lotion + spray, supplements, and a dream journal = a peaceful mind at night.

    a yoga mat, essential oil lotion + spray, supplements, and a dream journal = a peaceful mind at night.

  10. Consider taking a magnesium/calcium supplement, or a small amount of melatonin before bed. (Always consult a doctor before taking any supplements though!)
  11. Keep a dream journal. I’m fascinated by my own dreams, although sometimes I wake up after a dream and can’t fall back asleep. Writing down themes of a dream and then doing something relaxing, like reading a beautiful poem or listening to a favorite song can help to you to relax and help you fall asleep again. Then in the morning, you can analyze your own dreams, if it interests you.
  12. Try yoga nidra, a type of guided meditation, or other guided meditation podcasts and tutorials that can be found using google or available through apple podcasts.
  13. Eat a light snack before bed if you’re hungry. Try to aim for a balance of carbs & a little protein. A small amount of trail mix, whole grain crackers with a tablespoon of almond butter, or 6 oz. soy milk & a banana are some suggestions.
  14. Try to stick to a routine. This includes when you go to bed, what time you wake up (or set an alarm to wake up) and what times you eat throughout the day. Although it’s fun to live spontaneously, our bodies were meant to sleep and eat at certain points. Get into healthy, realistic habits, and become more attuned to your body’s needs.

Well, those are all the things that have been helpful in my experience. I hope you have a good nights rest!

-Jess

My (new) Favorite Vegan Restaurant + Some Updates

I feel like I start every post lately explaining how busy I am, but it’s true! School is definitely hard this semester. This post is going to be a personal one, because I haven’t been cooking anything too creative lately (ok, that’s a lie, I’ve been making some delicious kale salads but I keep forgetting to take pictures of my creations and a food post without a picture is just sad.)

If you read my last post, you learned that I “ended” my vegan diet because I craved fish and chicken, etc. Well, I’m back to my old vegan ways because I kept getting grossed out about making meat and found I was completely dependent on prepared foods (like already cooked meat at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, which ends up being really expensive). To me, being grossed out by cooking a particular food item is a sign that its just not going to work out. Now that I tried experimenting with a “flexitarian” diet, I feel I can return to my vegan ways and avoid some of the cravings that were sneaking up on me by paying closer attention to micronutrients to avoid certain deficiencies.

Although I’ve been busy, I did get a chance to take a mini-vacay in upstate NY where I ate at Garden Cafe on the Green, a cute vegan restaurant in Woodstock. I ate there twice. The first occasion I had a chickpea wrap with oven-roasted potato “fries) and the second time I had a blackbean-sweet potato burger. Both meals were delicious and I highly recommend the place if you happen to be in the Woodstock, NY-area.

a picture of the chickpea wrap at Garden Cafe.

a picture of the chickpea wrap at Garden Cafe.

 

In addition to eating, I also got to spend much time outdoors during my upstate getaway. I love exploring nature! This blogs tagline is “food for the mind, body, and soul” and I believe being in nature is one source of “food” for the all of the above! Fun fact: I actually used to be the education director of a nature preserve before I decided to go back to school for nutrition!

Had to stop and take a photo of this beauty!

Had to stop and take a photo of this beauty!

a birds nest I saw while hiking

a birds nest I saw while hiking

On a nutrition note, spending time outside, especially when it’s sunny, is a good way to boost your vitamin D intake, which often decreases during the winter months.

A short vacation wouldn’t be complete without going to a few souvenir shops, and that I did. Woodstock is a fun little town with a ton of cool stores that show it’s grooooovy history 🙂

a sculpture made of various knick-knacks

a sculpture made of various knick-knacks

Inside a thrift store.

Inside a thrift store.

I hopefully will have more time to post some of my recipes. After April I have finals for the spring semester…followed by two summer classes but making time for food (and creating healthy recipes) will always be something I love to share!

-Jess

Yoga by Vitamin Valentine!

picstitch-5Greetings readers. I’ve decided to make this post a short, personal update because I’ve been extremely busy with school. Due to this, my recipe creations have taken a backseat to spending hours in front of powerpoint slides and textbooks. Somehow, despite being super-busy, I’ve decided to further my health/wellness-focused career and become a certified yoga teacher! I start 200-hr teacher training this upcoming saturday and I’m so excited! I’ve been doing yoga since I was 16, but didn’t get seriously into it until this past January when I needed a change in routine. I didn’t expect yoga would change me so much and lead to a much more stress-free, flexible approach not only to exercise but life in general. That’s all for now. Keep reading and I’ll keep you updated on everything I’m learning on and off the mat 🙂

-Jess

What Influences Our Eating? (an intro, for now)

my lecture notes from class (and my cool sparkly, animal-print notebook, because I like to embrace my inner child while learning).

my lecture notes from class (and my cool sparkly, animal-print notebook, because I like to embrace my inner child while learning).

Last week, I started another year as a nutrition student as the fall semester commenced. So far, I really like the classes I’m taking. One class called “Energy & Exercise” is going to be a favorite, I think. This class is focused on weight control methods, exercise physiology, and energy balance. We’re also going to learn about eating disorders and how to prevent eating disordered behavior through promoting healthy eating habits and fostering a healthy body image in our future clients’ lives.

In yesterday’s lecture, we discussed some factors that influence our eating. This topic is of particular interest to me because of my own experiences and my belief that mindful eating is the most natural, effective way to eat healthfully while maintaining a balanced approach to diet.

Most people think that hunger, advertisements, being around food in a social setting, and emotions/stress are the top influencers of food consumption, however, I’m learning that there is SO much more to it. Neuropeptides and hormones such as neuropeptide Y, galanin, agouti-related protein, prolactin, and gherlin all have an effect on our appetites. I won’t go into too much detail about the science, because we’ve only just brushed the surface in class, but so far I’m learning that it’s a common misconception that all it takes to control ones appetite is willpower. I actually think I always knew this, because I consider myself (mostly) strong-willed, but still cave into cravings. It’s interesting to have scientific evidence that our feeding and food intake is not always so cut-and-dry.

It’s helpful to learn that there are physiological factors that lead us to eat certain foods because many people who have not struggled with their weight are quick to judge those who are overweight. It’s not always as simple as “eat this, don’t eat that” because, as I’m learning, there are so many factors that go into weight and food intake regulation. It can be frustrating when you look to diet books or magazines advising you to follow a strict diet and then you fail (or perceive failure when you haven’t lost ‘x” amount of lbs), but I hope that as a (future) dietitian, I can help my clients understand that weight has many influences to it, and then help them make the best dietary choices to counteract some factors that may be out of their own control (genetics, hormones, etc). Keep reading and I’ll continue to elaborate on this topic in future posts. There’s so much I have yet to learn and can’t wait to share it with you! 🙂

-Jess

Mindfulness Matters: Keep a Food Journal to Limit Stress-Eating

Keeping a mindful eating guide can be helpful, and can be stored with your food journal.

Keeping a mindful eating guide can be helpful, and can be stored with your food journal.

As I’ve written in previous posts, the connection between stress and how we eat, or what influences our eating is huge. Nutrition is obviously important, but the reasons for why we decide to consume food (whether it is hunger, celebration, or emotionally-driven eating) is equally important. For me, I know during times of stress, food can be comforting. As someone who is trying to practice what I preach, the keys to stopping emotionally-driven eating involve some work but the payoff is worth it. Food journaling has been shown to not only help people become more aware to the specific foods and amounts one is consuming, but it also helps diminish emotional or stress-eating, which is something we’ve probably all done from time to time.

I’ve always been a fan of food journaling, but it’s only been recently that I’ve paid more attention to the reasons why and how I eat, rather than what. If you have a basic knowledge of nutrition and you’re maintaining a healthy weight, chances are, nutritionally- you’re doing something right, but you may be struggling with turning to food at inappropriate times. The first piece of advice I would give to anyone who feels that they use food during times of stress, would be to buy a notebook and write down when you feel stressed. You may be so anxious or stressed-out that you don’t even realize it or can’t even pinpoint a specific stressor, but it’s important to let your mind be free and write it all down. No one else has to read your words, so using a free flowing writing style is A-ok in my book. Next, write down why you think food can help you. Be completely honest with yourself. If you’ve already eaten, and you’re doing a post-meal/snack/binge “confession”, write down what you think led to your eating indiscretion. There is absolutely no shame, despite what your brain might tell you. The key here is to not place blame on yourself. Chances are, food has been your go-to stress-relief for a while, so being nonjudgmental towards yourself in a situation that may have produced guilt in the past is really important.

After you’ve written down your feelings about the food and eating, it’s now time to examine better ways to handle a stressful situation next time. One way to stop a stress-induced-eating episode is to keep your food journal with you at all times and right before you’re about to eat, remind yourself to write down how you’re feeling. Ask yourself, “will food solve this problem in the long-run?”. Although food might provide some immediate comfort and distraction, the answer is probably no, food is not the solution (unless you are actually hungry, then please, do eat something!). Being able to identify healthier ways to deal with stress is a baby step onto real, serious change, so even pausing and writing in a food journal shows great progress. Creating an eating plan for the next day may sound like a good idea, but if you feel that may add additional stress to your life, keeping the focus off food is better. Instead, resolve to pause before eating, take a walk when stressed, or practice meditation. Even sitting for 2 minutes before deciding to use food during stress may help calm your head and change your mind.

Journaling and mindfulness are two ways to get in touch with the factors that lead you to eat, but if you’re facing a problem that you just can’t seem to fix and food is the only solution you can think of, it’s important to get help. Confiding in a friend, social worker, psychologist, or other person you can trust can help you deal with the issues at hand, and may help you find solutions to your problems and also guide you towards diminishing problematic behavior such as stress-eating.

Since I’ve decided to make my blog a little more personal in certain posts, I was actually inspired to write this because I have found much help with the use of a food journal and even on days when I do have a food faux pas (that’s my code for “stress eating episode”!), the use of a journal has helped me immensely. Today in particular I was feeling stressed out due to an issue unrelated to food or school, or anything related to this blog, and I came home and ate a sandwich. Afterwards, I continued to eat some snacks, and then I started to feel uncomfortably full. I took my food journal, and wrote down what I felt, and I wrote an entire page of what was plaguing me throughout the day. It made me realize how important it is to examine my thoughts as they’re occurring, or simply not give into cognitive distortions that my mind is telling me (if you haven’t guessed, yes, I was a psych major). Even though I did eat more than I was hungry for and even though I did happen to give into my stress, it’s great to be able to realize that I can face an issue simply by writing down my thoughts. Sometimes we have to go through a process, whether it seems imperfect in the moment, to be able to realize that we may have the answers within ourselves. Allowing a screw-up to happen is okay, if we’re able to grow from it (and we’re not hurting anyone else in the process. Luckily eating a few extra snacks is not terribly destructive). My final piece of advice is to allow yourself to feel, experience, observe, and write without judgment and see how far you can go!

-Jess