6 Signs Your “Lifestyle Plan” Is a Risky Diet in Disguise

The number of people who say they are dieting is at an all-time low, according to research released in 2013. To anyone who realizes how risky dieting is, fueling everything from nutrient deficiencies to obesity, this could seem like spectacular news. But here’s the thing:

Many people are now dieting without realizing it.

The weight loss industry is extremely smart from a financial standpoint. (They must be, to profit over $60 billion per year.) As dieting’s risks and almost zero percent success rate became widespread knowledge, many diet makers have responded by changing their packaging. “It’s not a diet,” many claim. “It’s a lifestyle plan!”

While this may be true in some cases, I’ve come across loads of “lifestyle plans” that are merely risky diets in disguise. If you’ve developed one or more of the below problems since adopting a dietary plan, it’s time to make some changes.

An unhealthy diet can take many different forms.

6 Signs Your “Lifestyle Plan” is a Risky Diet in Disguise

1. You have wretched breath. Halitosis is a common side effect of ultra-low carbohydrate, aka ketogenic, diets. Without enough carbs, the body releases chemicals that stink up your breath—and that’s only one of many known risks. When I was working as a consulting nutritionist, I could almost always tell if someone was “low-carbing” with one whiff.

2. You’re lethargic and grumpy. There’s a reason psychologists coined the term “Atkins Blues.” Carbohydrates are your body’s main fuel source—and the cells in your brain need twice as much as the rest of your body’s cells to function normally, stay energized and produce the feel-good chemical serotonin. (Ideally, most of your carbs will derive from nutritious sources.)

3. You’re anxious and stressed. Stress and anxiety are two of the most common downsides of dieting, and derive from physical and emotional factors. Without enough carbs, your body can’t efficiently produce calming brain chemicals. The highly restrictive nature of many diets also brings a sense of deprivation, which is stressful. You can’t dine out with ease or end up fighting perpetual hunger—which is another red flag.

4. Sleep is a problem. The same chemicals that promote positive moods make way for restful sleep. Consuming too few carbs or calories can make it really difficult to snooze restfully. Stress and anxiety from dieting (aka “lifestyle planning”) can also fuel insomnia. You could also end up exhausted over all, feeling as though all you want to do is stay in bed.

5. You’re prone to diarrhea, constipation or kidney stones. High-protein diets commonly contribute hugely to constipation and kidney stones, especially if you skimp of fiber-rich carb sources, such as legumes. If you can’t stick to a diet plan without taking laxatives (including herbal forms, such as senna or “detox tea”), it’s not a sound plan. Juice fasts that promise detoxification often also cause digestive upset, along with a slew of other complications.

6. Your sex life is suffering. Risky diet plans lack balance. They’re often way too high in protein or far too low in calories, carbs and sometimes fat. All of this can tinker with blood flow, which is crucial for arousal and sexual function, and brain chemicals linked with turn-on and orgasm. Low moods and bad breath from dieting can also make the naked tango less appealing.

So what’s the answer? Listen to your body. Respect it, rather than starve it. Aim for a diet based on whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Eat when you’re slightly hungry, stop when you’re comfortably full. Avoid diets that make grandiose promises, while, of course, avoiding any foods you’d don’t tolerate. Incorporate enjoyable activity into your lifestyle, cultivate a healthy sleep routine and pursue your passions. (Stress and unhappiness play a huge role in physical health.) Allow some wiggle room for foods you eat purely for enjoyment, keeping in mind that no one eats perfectly. The good news is, you don’t need to.

*If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms and they don’t seem diet or lifestyle related, or if they’re severe or long-lasting, seek guidance from your doctor. 

Related articles:

Can you relate to this post? What have dietary plans taught you? What steps do you take to gain wellness without losing your self? I love hearing from you! ♥

5 Simple, Healthy Holiday Treats

Don’t you just love quickies? Whoops, wrong series.

Kidding. Sort of…

I don’t know about you all, but this holiday season seems to be flying by, leaving me little time to bake up a storm in the kitchen. Rather than prepare my family’s traditional cardamom bread, which is scrumptious yet labor intensive, I’ve been relying on quick throw-it-together concoctions. The result? A healthy, happy, aromatic home and plenty of time for writing. And shopping. ‘Tis the season, right? Okay, I lied. I primarily shop online. But not for most groceries, of which you’ll need few for the following.

These recipes are far from gourmet, but they’re pretty darn tasty, if I may say so. They’re also healthier than your typical treats, making them a sweet tooth/wellness win-win, and require very little time and cleanup. *sigh* Just the sound of that last bit lifts my spirits…

Chocolate Banana Pudding


12-oz package tofu
2 bananas, cut into chunks
1/4 cup sugar or honey
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Splash of soy milk (or any milk)
Pinch of cinnamon


Combine all ingredients in a bowl or mixer. Blend until smooth, then chill in a pie pan or prepared crust for an hour or more. Top with whipped topping and fruit, if desired. Serves about 6.

Egg Nog Smoothie


1 banana
1 cup eggnog
1/2 cup milk
1 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
1 Tbsp ground flaxseeds or walnuts
Optional addition: 1/4 cup pureed, unsweetened pumpkin


Blend all ingredients together. Vwa-la! Serves 2.

Cinnamon Baked Pears

2 large pears, sliced
2 Tbsp butter or coconut oil, melted
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp whole wheat or almond flour
4 Tbsp old-fashioned oats
Pinch of cinnamon
Slivered almonds and ice cream (optional)


Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine butter or coconut oil, brown sugar, flour, oats and cinnamon in a freezer bag. Shake to combine. Add pear slices to bag, and shake until they’re coated. Arrange coated pears on a baking sheet and bake for 15 to 30 minutes, or until cooked through and lightly golden. Serve plain or topped with vanilla ice cream and almonds. Serves 4.

Quick Apple Sauce (adapted from the Food Network’s recipe)


3 sweet apples, peeled, cored and quartered
3 tart apples, peeled, cored, and quartered
1 cup apple juice
2 tablespoons rum (optional)
2 tablespoons butter, softened or sliced
3 tablespoons agave or honey
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon


Combine all ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover and microwave on high for 10 minutes. Remove the lid carefully then mash the apples with a fork or potato masher. (If you prefer, you can heat the mixture on the stove until soft, or 30 to 45 minutes.) Serve hot or chilled.

No-Bake Coconut Cookies


2 cups chopped nuts
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
1/3 cup almond or peanut butter
4 Tbsp honey or agave
1/4 – 1/2 cup mini dark chocolate chips


Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Stir well. Freeze for 20 minutes or so then form into balls and refrigerate. Makes about 24 small or 12 larger cookies.

For more fabulous recipes, check out the appropriately titled Yum Blog Hop, hosted by K.B. Owen. Bon appetit!

What’s your favorite holiday treat? Any super simple recipes to share below? 

Food Anxiety and Disordered Eating: Holiday Survival Strategies

“Change happens when you understand what you want to change so deeply that there is no reason to do anything but act in your own best interest.” — Geneen Roth

From festive tunes and decor to gift exchanges and gatherings, the holiday season fills me with child-like glee. All throughout, however, I’m cognizant of the fact that many people have near opposite views due to food angst. As someone who’s endured it and now mentors folks in its grasp, I know too well the depth of disordered eating pain. I wish I could multiply and divvy up my joy and inject it into every person suffering. Since I lack that super power, I’ll instead share some useful strategies with hopes that they might find appropriate eyes.

Even when food is the enemy and everywhere, you’re not as alone as you feel.

8 Ways to Manage Food-Related Anxiety Through the Holidays

1. Know you’re not alone. Little feels as lonely as fighting inner-food demons amidst gleeful bashes, and little fuels those demons like loneliness. One-third of holiday stress derives from overindulgence, according to Mental Health America. Add to that the fear of being judged or watched and  general food-related discomfort and it’s safe to say that you’re far from solitary. Considering how hidden many of these issues are, it’s likely that someone nearby struggles similarly. While you’d never wish your challenges on others, viewing yourself as one of many courageous folks who “get” it can help.

2. Confide in a personal cheerleader. Many of us have at least one person in our court who we can openly confide in during tough times. Share your concerns with that person before stressful events. If you fear mid-feast panic, have a code word or signal ready, along with a plan of action. When you ask your cheerleader a particular question, for example, he or she could ask you to step away to help you with something. If the person is a distance away, keep your phone at the ready for an SOS text or call.

3. Plan ahead food-wise. Keep “safe foods,” foods you’re comfortable with, well-stocked in your kitchen and workplace. Bring dishes you can eat with ease to holiday events, with plenty to share. Avoid arriving to parties and feasts on an empty, rumbling stomach. Eating a balanced snack beforehand can help reduce anxiety physically and emotionally. Balanced snacks, containing complex carbohydrates and protein, help your brain produce and utilize calming brain chemicals and staves off overeating. Have whole grain cereal with low-fat milk, for example, or yogurt topped with fruit. (Neither will make you “fat.”)

4. Get creativeI’m not talking about creative ways of food avoidance or pound shedding, which can fuel anxiety. Invest that energy into something therapeutic. Creativity helps take our minds off of stress, allows us to work through challenging emotions and provides emotional fulfillment. Sing. Write. Bake (if you’re comfortable doing so). Draw. Paint. Dance. I’ve personally found free writing, writing quickly and without judgment, near miraculous. For a useful free-writing exercise, check out Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages.

5. If you’re concerned about overeating or riddled with guilt for doing so, try to cut yourself some slack. Everyone feasts on occasion. One calorie-laden meal or day, or even several, won’t break your wellness or trigger “fatness.” Starving ourselves to make up for overeating by depriving the body of nourishment and making way for the bingeing/starving roller coaster, however, can. Even if you don’t attempt to compensate, guilt and self-loathing aren’t helpful to anyone. If you end up bingeing, forgive yourself and move on by eating, rather than skipping, your next meal.

6. Try not to view foods as “good” or “bad.” Demonizing certain foods makes them more tempting, increases stress and perpetuates negative attitudes and behaviors. All foods provide nutrients. Our bodies need carbohydrates, protein and fat to function and thrive. Many holiday foods, such as turkey, whole grain bread, potatoes, pumpkin and cranberries, are chock-full of vitamins and minerals. Emphasize healthy fare and, if you’re able and interested, allow yourself treats. Eating a modest-sized, rich dessert when you’re desiring it keeps it from turning into a craving, which can facilitate bingeing. Once you’re finished, engage in something non-food related, pronto.

7. Give yourself permission to opt out. If a particular event is too much to manage emotionally, decline. Tell the organizer you’re not feeling well and make tentative plans to catch up with friends and family another time on more comfortable grounds. People who care about you wouldn’t want you to attend a function that feels debilitating. (Would you force a friend who’s deathly afraid of flying onto an airplane?) Opting out when it “in” seems impossible isn’t selfish, but self-nurturing.

8. Focus on others. When the food monster overtakes your brain, it can feel all-consuming. While it’s understandable and not your fault, it’s a highly selfish state. What can you do to brighten another’s day? Seek the good in people and offer compliments. Ask questions about people’s lives with genuine curiosity. Hug loved ones. Send greeting cards. Volunteer. A bit of warmth will help others who may be equally anxious, and give you far more in return.

For more information on eating to quell food-related angst, check out my recent articles:

Love the Skin You’re In: Putting Order Back in Disordered Eating LIVESTRONG.com
Nourish Your Body, Nurture YourSELF: Bolstering Your Self-Esteem with a Healthy Diet LIVESTRONG.com
Food Cravings: Demystifying Intense Desires for Certain Foods LIVESTRONG.com
Foods That Increase Serotonin and Induce Sleep The Nest Magazine
The FulFillment Diet: Pursuing Passion FIRST Bartlett’s Integrated Health Journal

I’d love to hear from you. Have you or a loved one grappled with food stress over the holidays? Any pointers to add? Questions to share? If you’d prefer to share thoughts privately, feel free to write me directly. I’ll also be having a quiet Thanksgiving, so if you’re struggling and feel like chatting, find me on Facebook or Twitter.

Time-Saving Cooking Tips for Healthy Writers

I knew for certain I loved writing when within weeks of committing to the craft my kitchen looked more like a college dude’s than a health conscious adult’s. What should I make for dinner? Let’s see… We have mustard, ancient beer and an entree formerly known as fish. I think. (Ew.)

“Hello..oh…oh…? Is anybody in there?”

Writing like crazy and with gusto is a great thing. Starving ourselves or existing on cereal, Pop Tarts and fast food, not so much. As we’ve discussed here before, our brains require a healthy, balanced diet for proper function. I don’t know about you, but when it comes to my creativity and works-in-progress, I’ll take any effective tool I can get. Whether you’re gearing up for NaNoWriMo or simply wish to up the ante on your wellness, the following tips can help.

10 Time-Saving Ways to Cook Your Way to Better Writing

1. Dust off your crock pot. They aren’t just for savvy grannies anymore. I was living in Paris with a kitchen that consisted of a pop-out burner and a cooler when my mom suggested a slow-cooker. They are the time and money-saving bomb. Recipes for particularly brain-healthy options: Salmon, Veggies & Rice, Quinoa Red Lentil Soup, Chicken with Kale

2. Prepare large batches. Make a big batch of veggie-loaded lasagna, turkey meatloaf, soup or chili to last you several days or more. For healthy frozen meals, freeze single or family-size portions in secure containers. This Whole Wheat Spinach Lasagna is one great option. For you gluten-free folks, use sliced zucchini or brown rice lasagna noodles.

3. Stock up on frozen fruits and veggies. Frozen fruits and vegetables are flash frozen at their nutritional prime, so they’re at least as nutritious as produce-bin items. For healthier throw-it-together meals, add frozen greens or mixed veggies to pasta sauce, leftover mashed potatoes and soups. To add brain-healthy nutrients to oatmeal, add frozen or thawed berries while cooking.

4. Freeze leftover and over-ripe fruits and vegetables. Freezing changes the texture of fruits and vegetables, but maintains their freshness. Freeze peeled bananas and other fruit for use in smoothies. For an ultra-filling smoothie, blend 2/3 cup frozen blueberries with 1 banana, a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds and 1 cup of Greek yogurt or milk. Chop up leftover greens, such as kale and spinach, for use in sauces, soups and smoothies. Bonus: No thawing required.

Berry smoothies knock OJ out of the park.

5. Freeze batches of cooked grains. Preparing large batches of brown rice, wild rice and quinoa then freezing single or family-size portions in freezer bags can cut an hour or more of cooking time, plus cleaning time, from your days. You can also purchase pre-cooked frozen whole grains at most grocery stores, which cost more, but save time.

6. Become a one-pot rockstar. There are zillions of healthy one-pot recipes available, which reduce prep and cleanup time significantly. (Hallelujah for that!) For some delicious, nutritious ideas, check out these Healthy One-Pot Soup, Stew and Chili Recipes at Epicurious.com.

7. Give your restaurant leftovers healthy makeovers. We all dine out occasionally, sometimes due to an empty refrigerator. When you do, reserve leftovers to work into a healthy meal the next day. Roasted, steamed and seasoned vegetables work well in soups, pasta and rice dishes. Leftover meats can be diced up for salad topping and sliced up for sandwich filling. Breads (preferably whole grain) can be dried and crumbled into breadcrumbs for use in meatloaf and baked, chicken parmesan.

My favorite use of leftover Indian food: whole grain, veggie-loaded, chicken tikka pizza. Stir tamarind chutney into tomato sauce for added zest.

8. Stock your pantry with healthy staples. Whole grain rice and quinoa mixes, whole grain pastas and canned goods, such as diced tomatoes (which aren’t typically as nutritious fresh during winter months), reduced sodium beans and organic soups, such as Amy’s brand, provide nutritious meal additions without a soon-coming expiration date. To save shopping time, purchase healthy pantry staples online. Organic Kingdom, True Foods Market and even Amazon provide useful options.

9. Keep healthy foods readily available. Fill an attractive jar with nuts or trail mix and a bowl with ready-to-eat fruit to keep in your kitchen. If you’re prone to salty food cravings, nuts, low-fat or air-popped popcorn, pickles and olives provide healthy alternatives to potato chips. For sweet teeth, turn to unsweetened dried fruit, fresh fruit, berry-filled yogurt or small dark chocolate bars. Less healthy treats are okay in moderation, but they shouldn’t take center stage.

Move over pretzels. How scrumptious do these look?!?

10. Shop with a list, then stock, cook and chop. Take a list for your one-pot-wonder or crock pot recipe, plus healthy staples, to the grocery store once per week—or whenever you can. Once you’re home, begin cooking a meal. While it bakes, stews or simmers, chop up fresh fruit and vegetables, or boil grains for those freezer options in #5. Turn on relaxing music and have fun with it. The couple of hours shopping plus food prep can take is a worthy investment that will save you time, stress and brain fog.

Lastly, ask for help as needed. None of us go it alone, in writing or life. Your loved ones want to support you and so do I. So, any questions? Challenges? Tips to add? Thoughts to share? My blog living room is yours, too. 🙂

Foods for Better Sex

No, I’m not talking about oysters. Oysters do contain nutrients without which the body suffers, and some people feel they look like male genitalia. But when I see or smell the squishy buggers, I just want to gag—not exactly sexy. Aphrodisiac foods are fun to read about, and some provide modest benefits. And really, any food that gets you in the mood, I say enjoy it—as part of a balanced, healthy diet. 😉

Here’s what I find exciting: A variety of nutritious foods actually promote positive sexual function and make way for sensual moods. From a scientific perspective, the following foods could do your body and sex life good.

Colorful fruits and veggies. “What’s good for the heart is good for the genitals,” says Lynn Edlen-Nezin, Ph.D., a clinical health psychologist and coauthor of Great Food, Great Sex: The Three Food Factors for Sexual Fitness. An antioxidant-rich diet guards against poor circulation (which keeps you-know-whats firm and strong) and cell damage that can nuke your sex drive. Edlen-Nezin suggests amping up your intake of colorful produce, including red bell peppers, spinach, broccoli, grapes, spinach, beets and berries, and aiming for variety.

Bananas. If anxiety or stress interferes with your bedroom life, eating a banana several hours before love-making might help. Bananas provide carbohydrates and the amino acid tryptophan—a combo that allows your brain to produce feel-good, calming chemicals. The potassium in bananas enhances muscle strength, which is vital for orgasm, says Lou Paget, author of The Great Lover Playbook. If the shape inspires you, BONUS.

Low-fat milk and yogurt. Low-fat milk and yogurt also provide carbohydrates and tryptophan. For antioxidant benefits, top yogurt with colorful fruit and a touch of honey for added energy, or throw it all in your blender for a healthy pre-sex smoothie. It takes about 30 minutes for your body to convert glucose from honey into energy, so time your honey-kissed treats accordingly. 😉

Salmon and flaxseeds. Salmon and flaxseeds are top suppliers of omega-3 fatty acids, which promote positive circulation and  dopamine production. Without enough omega-3s, the normal for most Americans, you’re likely to experience low moods, skin problems and a lack of natural lubrication. Most people need about two servings of cold-water fish, such as salmon, weekly or plant sources, like ground flaxseeds, daily to meet their omega-3 needs.

Sushi rolls, ginger and edamame. Sushi rolls provide healthy fats, energy-boosting carbohydrates and the staying power of protein. Rice is the one starch that does not stimulate gas during digestion; needless to say, gassiness isn’t a turn on and can cause physical and emotional discomfort. “Ginger is a natural blood thinner,” says Paget, “so it aids overall circulation, and edamame contains phytoestrogens, which help lubricate the vagina.”

Dark chocolate. A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that phenylethylamine, a compound in dark chocolate, releases sex-related endorphins and increases attraction between pairs. A Journal of Sexual Medicine study showed that consuming a cube of dark chocolate daily increases sexual desire and overall sexual function than non-chocolate eaters. Yum, yum and yum.

A glass of red wine. Boozing it up can hinder sexual performance, but the occasional glass of red wine provides valuable antioxidants without posing side effects. Research at Chicago’s Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation showed that kisses laced with alcohol are a turn-on for singles. Red wine also increases estrogen levels and improves circulation during sex, according to experts featured in Women’sHealth magazine.

Do certain foods or flavors rev your sexual engine? Which turn it off? Do any of these foods surprise you? I love hearing your thoughts.

Health Benefits of Desserts

Ever feel like this?

Dessert deprivation is not a happy, healthy state.

In a culture that places excessive value on dieting and thinness, yet struggles increasingly with weight gain and obesity, it’s easy to view dessert as a tantalizing enemy. But according to many health experts, recovered dieters and studies, negative attitudes and avoidance of desserts—and other foods—can be more detrimental to our wellness than indulging.

But that’s not all. Desserts can actually boost our wellness. (Did she say boost?) Yep! Consider the following…

Benefits of Incorporating Desserts into a Healthy, Balanced Diet

Improved weight control.

In a recent study published in the journal Steroids, 195 obese adults followed calorie-controlled diets for 16 weeks. Both plans contained the same amount of calories and namely healthy foods, with one difference—one group consumed dessert daily. The dessert eaters lost slightly more weight than the non-dessert eaters and were significantly more successful at keeping lost pounds off.

“Most people simply regain weight, no matter what diet they are on,” Daniela Jakubowicz of Tel Aviv University and lead author of the study told the New York Times. “But if you eat what you like, you decrease cravings.”

Reduced unhealthy food cravings.

Dessert benefits are particularly acute for non-dieters. Why? Because routine indulgences and some amount of flexibility in your diet prevents feelings of deprivation, which can stimulate the weight gain that prompts dieting. And viewing desserts as savory treats rather than “bad” or “junk” foods can help diminish sugar cravings while making sugary fare less tantalizing.

Another study featured by Better Health Research showed that daily intake of dark chocolate helps keep cravings for unhealthy foods at bay. Participants who ate dark chocolate also ate 15 percent fewer daily calories compared to non-chocolate eaters.

Improved nutrient intake.

We crave dense foods when our bodies are lacking nutrients or calories. And eating too little is one of the top contributors to food cravings, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center.

In some cases, a rich dessert is just the fuel your body and brain needs—particularly if you consume too few carbohydrates. Are desserts the healthiest source of carbohydrates? Not usually. But consuming enough carbohydrates from any source is healthier than severely restricting or skipping them altogether.

Desserts can also provide essential nutrients from whole foods, such as whole grains, nuts, fruits and even vegetables. Consider the following:

  • Pumpkin pie contains rich amounts of fiber, calcium and vitamins A and C. One standard slice provides of 260% of adults’ recommended daily intake of vitamin A.
  • This strawberry rhubarb crisp with an oatmeal crust provides a full serving of fruit per serving and valuable amounts of B-vitamins, fiber and healthy fats.
  • Cheesecake provides valuable amounts of protein, calcium and vitamin D.
  • Blueberry pie provides plentiful antioxidants and about 8 grams of fiber per slice—about one-third of women’s daily minimum and one-quarter of men’s.
  • Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants and can have a positive impact on blood sugar control and heart-health. (The darker, the better.)
  • Oatmeal raisin cookies provide valuable amounts of fiber, B-vitamins, calcium and iron.
  • One cup of slow-churned ice cream provides 12 percent of adult’s daily calcium needs and as much protein as an egg.

Desserts should not replace nutritious whole foods in your diet, of course, but it’s nice to know that they aren’t devoid of nutrients. If you love sweets, the following tips can help keep your sweet teeth happy without compromising your wellness.

5 Ways to Have Your ‘Cake’ and Stay Healthy, Too

1. Go for quality, not quantity. It can be tempting to stock up on affordable or “diet” style desserts that seem oh-so-healthy. In reality, desserts made from natural, high-quality ingredients tend to be more satisfying. Artificial sweeteners and desserts that taste “diet-y” can leave us hungry (and reaching) for more.

2. To prevent blood sugar imbalances, pair sugary sweets with fiber or protein-rich foods. Because fiber and protein have a mellowing impact on blood sugar, foods like whole grains, berries, low-fat milk and yogurt, help keep us fuller longer and guard against dreaded crashes. Top ice cream with raspberries, for example, or have sorbet after a balanced meal.

3. Don’t torture yourself with dozens of accessible faves. If your one donut tends to bring along friends and one cookie seems foreign, keep tempting fare out of reach. Like our diets, our kitchens should contain moderate amounts of sugary sweets at most. Recovering dieters are especially prone to the “feast or famine” mentality. As your attitudes about food and eating improve, the tempting nature of desserts will reduce, leaving you more capable of portion control. In the meantime, take yourself out for a single ice cream cone or slice of pie rather than rushing to Costco.

4. Top it with fruit. Or fruit with it. Most Americans fall short of the daily recommended 2 cups+ of fruits per day. (More is better.) There’s no time like dessert-time to start changing that. You’ll likely end up eating less of the cake/cookies/ice cream/pie, feel more satisfied—without feeling stuffed, and take a leap toward your antioxidant and fiber needs. A sweet win-win, in my opinion.

5. Eat more whole foods. The more whole foods we eat, the more our taste buds love them. As a kid, I ate sugar cubes from the bowl and plowed through my Halloween candy in days. Now that I eat namely whole foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fish…), sugary sweets are too sugary. Some seem darn near flavorless. If you don’t currently eat healthy variations of conventional desserts, such as whole grain cakes, all-fruit pies and pumpkin tofu cheesecake (YUM!), I suggest trying it. And the more whole foods you incorporate into your overall diet, the better.

What do you love most about desserts?  Do you enjoy them with ease or grapple with guilt?  As always, I welcome your thoughts and questions.  I’m having so much fun with this, I’ve decided to carry the dessert party on via Twitter (#HealthySweet) today—sharing factoids, tips and more. Hope to see you and your sweet-teeth there. 😉

6 Common Diet Don’ts That Cramp Creativity

Have you ever tried to problem-solve, sculpt or write through major hunger pangs? What about after a huge, I’m totally stuffed! meal?

When our diets suffer, creativity is one of the first things to dwindle. Here’s what’s cool: Eating well makes way for a happy, healthy brain. And it isn’t hard. Avoiding these common “don’ts,” choosing primarily healthy foods and not going too long without eating, can boost your brain function, leading to sharper creativity and improved overall health.

1. Dieting. Roughly half of Americans are dieting at any given time, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, despite the negligible success rate and broad range of complications. Eating too little wreaks havoc on our metabolism and starves our brains. Restrictive diets—including those diet “plans” and “programs” that impose strict rules—can cause foggy thinking, poor concentration, fixation on food and weight-control and memory problems.

2. Overdoing protein. One macronutrient group Americans tend not to lack is protein. Most of us consume over twice the amount we need, which is around 7 grams for every 20 pounds of body weight. Protein plays an important role in brain function by supplying amino acids—the building blocks of our brains network. They allow for excitability and relaxation, as part of a balanced diet. But going overboard has been linked with brain shrinkage and an increased risk for dementia. It also leaves little room in our diets for brain-energizing foods. And don’t be fooled by the initial weight loss stimulated by high-protein/low-carb diets. It’s typically temporary, unhealthy loss, and our brains and bodies can suffer.

3. Skimping on whole grains. Our brains rely on carbohydrates more than any other nutrient. Drop too low, and we’re likely to feel sluggish, fatigued, agitated, blah and dulled creatively. Whole grains are among the most nutritious carbohydrate sources on the planet. Many large-scale studies have linked diets rich in whole grains with positive brain function. Sadly, most Americans consumes less than one-third of the recommended three-plus servings per day. Whole grains are top sources of brain-boosting nutrients, including B-vitamins, vitamin E, selenium and magnesium. Because they provide more fiber and protein than refined grains, such as white flour, they also provide more staying power for your brain and body between meals. Nutritious examples include brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, oats, spelt, buckwheat, whole wheat and popcorn.

4. Too few healthy fats—and excessive unhealthy fats. Our bodies make all the saturated fat we need, which are also found in fried foods, fatty meats and dairy products. And trans-fats, prevalent in hard margarine and commercially-prepared cookies, crackers and other foods containing hydrogenated vegetable oil, can reduce the effects of healthy fats, which are vital for proper brain function. Like protein, most of us are not fat-deficient. But many of us lack healthy fats. For improved brain function, choose cold-water fish, such as salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel and halibut, over fatty steaks most often. Other brain-healthy fat sources include flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans and canola oil.

5. Too few fruits and veggies. Fruits and vegetables aren’t just great for immune function, healthy skin and weight control. They supply rich amounts of antioxidants, water and fiber—ingredients our brains adore. (Antioxidants help reduce damage from free radicals in the brain, which can interfere with creative processes.) Aim for a variety of fruits and vegetables, and a variety of colors, for best results. Including colorful produce with all of your meals, and snacks as desired, is a great way to meet your daily needs. Particularly brain-healthy varieties include berries, plums, citrus fruits, tomatoes, artichokes, dark leafy greens, carrots and sweet potatoes.

6. Overdoing alcohol. We may feel hilarious, smart and savvy while boozing it up. Most of us know that’s largely drunkenness speaking. Studies have shown that the more alcohol we drink, the more likely we are to experience severe sleep problems, daytime grogginess and reduced cognitive function. And even moderate alcohol consumption has been linked with brain shrinkage over time. If you enjoy alcohol, aim for moderate and occasional indulgences—ideally after you’ve completed creative work. 😉

A Sample Brain-Healthy Day

Breakfast: Steel-cut oatmeal, organic or Greek yogurt, fresh fruit and ground flaxseed or walnuts

Lunch: Large veggie salad with balsamic vinaigrette, grilled salmon, 100 percent whole grain roll

Snack: Baby carrots with healthy dip and/or apple slices with almond butter

Dinner: Steamed or grilled veggies, brown rice, vegetarian chili or grilled tofu

Dessert/Snack: Dark chocolate-dipped berries with a glass of low-fat milk


For more information, check out my LIVESTRONG.com article, The Diet, Exercise and Creativity Connection, featuring award-winning neurologist, Dr. Paul Bendheim.

Now I’m hungry. What about you? What brain-healthy “don’t” do you steer clear of? Which could use some work? Any questions for me? I’d love to support you toward your goals. 

10 Healthy Processed Foods

Yes, you read that right.

In an ideal world, we’d step into our backyards for fresh produce, whole grains and organic eggs, or into our aromatic dining rooms after our personal farmers and chefs did on our behalf. Busy work and home lives, finances and that little thing called reality seldom allow for that, but that doesn’t mean we can’t reap similar benefits.

‘Healthy processed food’ can seem like an oxymoron, but there are nutritious options available. By incorporating them into our diets, we can reap benefits ranging from improved nutrient intake and immune function, to sharpened creativity, weight control and moods. I’m not affiliated with the companies below, but I dig their products.

10 Processed Foods Worth Eating

1. Ezekial Bread When I first began studying nutrition 10-plus years ago, I had to venture to a health food co-op for Ezekial bread. Now most large grocery chains carry Ezekial bread. Thank goodness, because the sprouted grain bread is chock-full of whole grain nutrients, including protein, fiber, B-vitamins and potassium. Tip: If you haven’t yet adjusted to sprouted grains, toast Ezekial bread for enhanced texture and flavor. Your taste buds will gradually adjust.

2. Yogurt Yogurt is a rich source of protein, calcium, vitamin D and probiotics—healthy bacteria associated with healthy digestion, fewer yeast and H. pylori infections and, most recently, less anxious moods. Even people with lactose intolerance can often digest it with ease. And it’s scrumptious. Tips: Choose natural yogurt low in added sugars, such as organic Greek or Dannon Pure. Add fresh fruit to plain or vanilla yogurt for a naturally-sweet treat.

3. Nut Butters What Americans lack in healthy fats, we make up for 10-fold in unhealthy saturated and trans-fats. Nut butters can add healthy fats, fiber, protein, antioxidants and flavor to your meals and snacks. Tips: Reduced-fat varieties often contain hefty amounts of added sugars. Choose the most natural, regular varieties you can find. For a healthy snack, top Ezekial bread or fruit slices with almond or peanut butter.

4. Mango Veggie Naked Juice I’m not generally a fan of commercial juices; they tend to contain rich amounts of sugar and little, if any, fiber. Many bottled “green,” aka “superfood” juices consist of apple juice with some kale, wheat grass or other vegetables added in. This pretty little number provides 2 servings of vegetables and 1 serving of fruit per serving—all the fiber, pulp and antioxidants of whole produce included. Tip: When purchasing prepared smoothies and juices, choose those that list whole fruits and pulp. They should also contain fiber.

5. Kashi 7 Whole Grain Pilaf Rice that appears brown isn’t necessarily nutritious. This mix by Kashi, however, contains brown rice, oats, hard red wheat, triticale, buckwheat, barley and sesame seeds—top sources of whole grain nutrients. It’s a versatile mix that can be used in soups, side dishes, as an entree and even as a hot cereal. Tips: Prepare a large batch of whole grain rice or pilaf to last for several days, or freeze portions in air-tight containers for quick, healthy meals later on. For a gluten-free option, try this wild and brown rice pilaf with butternut squash and cranberries recipe. It’s simple and DELISH.

6. Canned Fish Yeah, the name doesn’t thrill me either. But canned fish, particularly salmon and tuna, provide the omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, vitamin D and other fish-containing nutrients so many of us lack. The American Heart Association recommends eating 3.5 ounces of fish at least twice per week for improved heart health, and choosing fish more often than red and fried meats. Tip: To cut back on salt, choose low-sodium varieties or rinse the fish well before eating it. If you eat an overall low-sodium diet, regular canned fish is typically fine.

7. Frozen fruits and vegetables Because frozen produce is flash-frozen at its nutritional prime, it contains as much, if not more, nutritional value than produce sitting on the raw shelf. Tips: Add frozen fruit, without added sugar, to fruit smoothies and baked goods, and frozen vegetables to casseroles, soups, pizzas and mashed potatoes. You’ll feel more satiated on more nutrients and fewer calories and start craving fruit and veggie-containing meals in general.

8. Amy’s Organic Lentil Soup Most of us can stand to increase our legume intake. Beans, lentils and split-peas are some of the most nutritious foods on the planet. They’re rich in protein, fiber and complex carbohydrates, as well as a slew of micro-nutrients. Amy’s lentil soup is great to keep on hand for days when you don’t have your crock-pot and dried legumes handy, or the hours lentil-preparation can take. Tips: Spice Amy’s soup up with natural herbs or other seasoning. Serve it with fresh fruit salad, stone-ground whole grain crackers or toasted Ezekial bread.

9. Old-fashioned or steel-cut oats Oats are a hearty whole grain that can help keep you energized and full throughout the morning. Steel-cut oats, which consist of the inner kernel of the oat plant, take an hour-plus to make. Tips: Either prepare a pot in advance to last a few days or make old-fashioned oatmeal, which takes 2 to 5 minutes via stove or microwave. For added nutrients, prepare oats with low-fat soy or cow’s milk and top it with fresh or dried fruit.

10. Natural microwave popcorn Popcorn is a whole grain that contains more antioxidants than many fruits. (Seriously? Yep.) If you don’t have time to pop kernels over the stove and don’t have an air-popper, packaged microwave varieties are just as nutritious. Tip: Avoid the gooey buttery varieties. Natural, low-fat and herb-seasoned varieties are healthier.

Now if you really want to make like that organic farm resident, you’ll also partake in a few valuable behaviors:

  • Eat mindfully, in a pleasant atmosphere with your food served on nice dishes—yes, even processed foods.
  • Choose whole, fresh foods as often as you can. Shop at your local farmers’ market. Interact with the sellers.
  • Learn to cook or expand your skills.
  • Dine with loved ones when you can. Savor solo meals, too.
  • Say please and thank you.
  • Stay active and spend time outside.
  • Do your best to sleep well.

It sounds so easy, right? It actually is, once you get the hang of it. Taking steps—even tiny ones—is all it takes to get us moving in the right direction. And since the way we approach food and eating can say a lot about how we approach our lives, the benefits can extend well past our plates and pantries. Just a little food for thought. 😉

I’d love to hear from you. What healthy steps are you working on? Any challenges I can support you with? What healthy processed foods top your list?