Staycation Fun

This week I took a vacation from work.  Although I find my work fulfilling and rewarding, everyone needs a vacation and I’m no exception.  I thought about going somewhere during my time off, but sometimes I find traveling more stressful than it is relaxing so I decided to make this vacation a “stay-cation”.

This past week I’ve been going to the beach and spending a lot of time meditating, which is something that I need to consistently do in order to reap the benefits.

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Went to one of my favorite cafes and enjoyed a delicious smoothie and a good read

I also took a few day trips to my favorite towns on Long Island and ate at my favorite vegan restaurants (I might write a separate blog post on that!).  This past week I also explored some nature preserves, attended a powwow, and visited a farm that I used to work at many summers ago.

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This preserve (Norman J. Levy Preserve) was built on what used to be a garbage dump. The high point where I took the photo from used to be a giant pile of garbage and now is home to native species of grass, small trees, insects, animals and birds.

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A picture of the farm I used to work at! I actually worked with the animals but I would love to get my hands dirty working with some fresh produce!

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A photo of one of the highlights from the powwow.  Group dancing to drums and hymns of Native American tribes made this a magical experience.

While I was relaxing on the beach this week, I decided that I was going to stop drinking coffee for the remainder of my vacation (and hopefully keep this up when I go back to work).  I made this decision because I notice sometimes when I drink too much coffee (which can be as little as 1-2 cups per day), I feel really anxious in my stomach– like an annoying, uncertain gut feeling related to nothing in particular which lasts about an hour or two after I’ve overdone it with the coffee.  I’ve written about my history of insomnia and sleep disturbances and I know that having any caffeine affects my sleep cycle greatly. I’m hoping that I can keep my cravings for coffee at bay. Tonight my plans include going to a coffee house, so this should be interesting. I’ll give an update soon along with some more info on my favorite vegan restaurants. For more personal updates and (almost) daily food pictures, you can follow me on instagram @vitaminvalentine 🙂

-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

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

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