Simplifying Meal Planning

Do you find it difficult or frustrating to plan your meals for the week?  If so, you’re not alone.  If you’re trying to live a healthier lifestyle and/or lose weight, you’ve probably heard that cooking more and eating out less is one of the biggest steps towards achieving these goals.  For many, however, it can be one of the most challenging steps.  Busy lives often keep us from planning, shopping, prepping, and cooking meals.  Instead we opt for dining out, carry-out or delivery, which often means bigger portions, more sugar, and fewer nutrients than we bargained for.

However, there are ways to simplify meal planning so it’s not just another added stress, but a source of relief!

First, you have to make the commitment to your goal.  Eating healthy nutrition will help you feel better, have more energy, manage your weight, and boost your immunity.  Knowing and believing you can achieve all of these things helps keep you motivated and stay on track.

Second, realize that like any new skill, it takes some work up front before it can become second nature.  Once you get into a rhythm with meal planning, it doesn’t take much effort at all.   You have to be willing to experiment and figure out what works best given your unique lifestyle. 

Third, set your parameters.  I like to challenge myself to eat mostly home-cooked meals throughout the week, and then splurge on the weekends, allowing myself to go out and indulge in some of my favorite foods.  When thinking about meal planning it’s good to be realistic.  Each week I pick 1-2 new dishes to try (you can make enough to have leftovers for lunches or to incorporate into dinners).  I have a shopping list I keep throughout the week, adding things that I run out of as well as staple items to have on hand (fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, beans, grains, eggs, dairy, meat).  I add the ingredients for the new dishes I plan to make and I’m good to go!  I have a number of simple dishes I can prepare throughout the week that don’t take much time or thought.  Play around until you come up with your own arsenal of quick and easy meals. 

Forth, remember that’s it’s ok if things don’t go according to plan.  Just do your best and be kind to yourself.  If you have a stressful day and need to go out for dinner and drinks to unwind, that’s ok.  Just keep balance in mind, listen to your body, and when in doubt, choose what feels most loving towards yourself!





The Best Kind of Morning Routine

The Best Kind of Morning Routine

It’s starts with kindness.  Seriously.  The most important thing you can do for yourself to start your day off right is to be kind to yourself. When you wake up, take the time to check in with yourself.  Do you feel rested?  Does your body ache?  Are you anxious?  Or looking forward to the day?

Challenge: Create a little pocket of space in the morning that’s just for you.  Simply acknowledge how you feel, without judging it. 

Before you check in with the rest of the world via phones, computers, etc. can you take care of your needs?  Do you need to stretch, take a hot shower, eat something nourishing, listen to an uplifting or energizing song, lay with yourself for a minute?  Allow yourself to be extra kind to the most important person in your life: you. 

You deserve kindness.  First thing in the morning, and throughout your day.

Practicing giving yourself kindness is so important because when you can rely on yourself for kindness, you don’t have to worry so much about whether or not other people will show you kindness. 

When you start your day off with kindness (perhaps a little at first, and in increasingly bigger doses over time), you create space for the rest of the day to unfold without overwhelming your mind and body.  Have you noticed that when you’re feeling grounded, centered, and excited about life, changes and upsets don’t affect you as much?  What if you could live this way more consistently?  Practicing kindness can lead you in this direction.

So, how does this work in a practical, real-world way?  It’s different for every person.

Make a list of things that make you feel loved and cared for (a hug, kind words, time to rest, good food, breathing fresh air, moving your body, etc.).  Then, think about how you could fit one or two of these into your morning routine in a practical, sustainable way.

Ask for a hug, give one to yourself, wrap yourself in a comfy blanket, or take a hot shower.  Write down, or say out loud, some kind and loving words to yourself.  Ask your partner, friend or family member to tell you or email you some kind and loving words.  Lie in bed for a few extra minutes, even if it means setting your alarm a few minutes early.  Lie in bed for a just a few minutes before you leave for work.  Cook a nourishing meal, or have one prepared from the night before.  Take some deep breaths inside or outside (if you’re lucky enough to be in a warm climate!).  Do a brief meditation.  Stretch.  Practice yoga.  Take a quick walk.  Add in a simple strength training routine.  Dance around while you’re making breakfast or while you’re getting dressed. 

It doesn’t really matter what you do, or how long you do it for as long as you are doing something that makes you feel loved. 

Commit to adding 1-2 morning Acts of Kindness to Yourself for one week and see if you notice a difference!

I don't believe in diets; I believe in health

I have a very limited recollection of what I ate in college.  I remember my roommates and I had a moving cart we were “borrowing” from our dorm that we used as a pantry.  I can picture the boxes of graham crackers, cereal, Easy Mac, cinnamon swirl bread, and gummy candies filling up the cart.  I vaguely remember huge smoothies in the morning, eating stir-fries for dinner in the student center, and Subway or pizza after parties.  I grew up eating a pretty balanced diet of home-cooked food, but off at college, I survived on the processed stuff.  That is until I my mom called me during my senior year and told me she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.  Her mom had passed away from cancer when I was 8 years old, so the connection among the 3 of us suddenly felt very real.

I had this very bold intuition that said, “From now on, you will only eat fruits, vegetables, and brown rice.”  So that’s what I did, for probably about a week until I got tired of eating the same things and wasn’t sure how to navigate eating with friends on my new plan.  After that I started to read up on various diets, but was more focused on how they affected my weight, not my health.

My mom’s youngest sister has been into the concept of food as medicine for as long as I can remember.  She was, and still is, my go-to alternative medicine guru.  So several years (and various diets) later, when I decided I wanted to learn more about “health food,” I contact her and asked her for a list of authors and cookbooks she loved.  She turned me on to Paul Pitchford’s Healing with Whole Foods and Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions.  Just about the same time a family friend told me about a nutrition school she had heard of that she thought I would love.  I was tired of diets and fads and buying protein bars and powders with colors and flavors not found in nature.  I wanted the truth.  And I found it. 

I found a school that believes that everyone is unique in their nutritional needs.  A school that every week brought in a different guest speaker who would passionately describe their Vegan lifestyle, citing research and evidence as to the health benefits until you became a believer.  That is until the following week when the guest speaker would show you, unequivocally, why eating meat is an essential part of a healthy diet.  The school wasn’t trying to make its students crazy.  It was trying to show us that there isn’t one diet that is right for everyone.  And that being healthy is about more than just the food you eat.  It’s about your satisfaction with your overall life: career, relationships, physical activity, creativity, and spirituality. 

I am passionate about food.  I haven’t gotten into growing it yet, but I enjoy shopping for it, cooking it, and eating it.  I hate counting calories or feeling like I’m depriving myself.  So I eat lots of whole foods: fruits, veggies, grains, seeds, nuts, and legumes.  I try to eat organic foods as much as possible, especially when it comes to meats and dairy.  I make much of the food I eat because I know what goes into it.  Although I love to splurge on nachos, pizza, and cake balls, I’m always conscious of the quality of the ingredients, aiming to eat only high quality foods.

I don’t believe in diets, I believe in health.  Focusing on heath means treating yourself like you would treat your best friend.  Nourish yourself with the highest quality food, people, jobs, adventures, endeavors, experiences, and joys.  Because you deserve only the best in this ever-changing, constantly shifting, endless rollercoaster of life!

My All-Time Favorite Diet

My All-Time Favorite Diet

I’ve experimented with a lot of different diets over the years.  I was a vegetarian for 10 years starting at age 11, mostly because some friends and I thought it would be cool.  I tried to do the Atkins diet while being a vegetarian (tricky) because I thought I would lose weight.  Wanting to understand more about how food affected my body, I read about the South Beach Diet.  Since Jennifer Aniston was, at the time, recommending The Zone Diet, I tried that, too.

Initially I would get so excited to start a new diet.  The promise of weight-loss, increased energy, clearer skin, better digestion, better immunity, and enhanced mood prompted me to head to the store to buy the various foods, frozen meals, and/or supplement bars that the particular diet prescribed.  But it was only a matter of time before I would get bored, start having cravings, or get introduced to a new diet that sounded better than the one I was on.

When my mom was diagnosed with cancer over 10 years ago, a very deep voice rose up that said, “from now on you will only eat whole foods.”  I didn’t know exactly what this meant, but true story, I went to the store and stocked up on fruits, veggies, and brown rice.  This very simple diet proved to be unsustainable for me, but was the starting point of my journey into the world of whole foods.

The truth is, there is no diet that is right for everyone.  We are all very, very unique.  Nature and nurture create very different creatures, even if you grow up in the same household, let alone live on different sides of the planet. 

I would also like to mention that nutrition is a huge market, much of which is unregulated.  If you watch TV, use the Internet, or go the grocery store, you are constantly being shown different messages of what to eat.  It can be confusing and overwhelming to say the least.

Having said all that, my favorite diet of all time is a diet comprised mostly of whole foods.  Wikipedia defines whole foods as, “foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible, before being consumed.”

This means I focus on eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, beans, and seeds.  I personally include high quality meat and dairy in my diet.  Some people have allergies or sensitivities to specific foods or food groups, so they need to avoid those foods.  I eat whole foods in a variety of ways and combinations, including cooked and raw.  I try to buy as much fresh food as I can, but sometimes I use frozen or canned whole foods. 

While whole foods are the foundation of my diet, I do allow myself to indulge in processed foods.  Wikipedia defines food processing as, “the transformation of raw ingredients, by physical or chemical means into food, or of food into other forms. Food processing combines raw food ingredients to produce marketable food products that can be easily prepared and served by the consumer.”  I focus primarily on whole foods because, in many cases, it’s difficult to know what is going into your food if it’s being processed.  Lots of processed foods contain added sugars, preservatives, and additives that have been linked to health problems. 

When I do indulge in processed foods, for example pizza (yum!), my goal is to have pizza with the highest quality ingredients available.  Sometimes that means making my own pizza, sometimes that means getting one delivered while I sit on the couch and binge watch my favorite TV show (currently Broad City).  Increasingly restaurants and food companies are paying attention to the publics desire for healthy food and it’s easier than ever to get convenience and nutrition in the same place.

My favorite diet of all time is actually not all that complicated.  It involves focusing more on whole foods than processed foods, which often includes more food shopping and cooking.  Both are skills that can be learned and simplified.  And as I mentioned, there are companies that are creating meals and meal delivery systems that aren’t only convenient, but nutritious, too.  When eating processed foods, do a little research to find out where to get the highest quality processed food. 

As always, it’s a balancing act.  With whole foods as the foundation of your diet, you can feel free to be flexible with your food choices.  Doesn’t that feel good?!?  

Mindful Eating versus The Shovel Technique


When I was little, my mom would often have to tell me to stop “shoveling” my food.  Apparently, the way I held a fork resembled how a little kid would shovel sand into a bucket.  Although the “shoveling” technique is arguably a more efficient way to get food from plate to face, my mom insisted I hold my fork in a more delicate manner.   I resented it at the time (sorry, Mama!), but now I appreciate it as it lends itself to more mindful eating.    

Mindfulness isn’t just something for the hardcore yogis and super health nuts.  Being mindful means bringing more awareness to what you’re doing.  For example, I have a lower back injury that flares up from time to time.  If I don’t take good care of my body, which includes practicing mindfulness, I am more likely to get hurt.  I have to be especially mindful when I am working out, making sure I am activating and engaging the right muscles to prevent injury.

I say practicing mindfulness because it’s an ongoing process.  When you’re trying to be more mindful about something, it can take a little extra energy up front because you have to pay more attention to something you may have been neglecting.  But the more you do it, the easier it gets.  And the benefits are huge!

When it comes to mindful eating, the benefits can include: better digestion, weight-loss, increased energy, awareness of when your body is full, feeling satisfied after a meal, and decreased overeating.  Here are some of the areas you can focus on to begin practicing more mindful eating.  Pick one or two to focus on initially, and only add more as these become second nature.

1.  Location and atmosphere of your meal.  Is your meal the main event or are you multi-tasking?  Eating in front of the TV, computer, working, reading, or even socializing can prevent you from being fully present with your food.  This doesn’t mean you need to eat alone or never have dinner and a movie again.  It’s all about awareness.  Just notice if you are eating more or less depending on your location or environment.  Eating while stressed can lead to indigestion, so finding a calm place to eat as well as breathing in between bites can help.  Pay attention to if you’re truly enjoying your meal, or if you’re being distracted by your environment.  Just try to slow down, and notice your food a little bit more every time you eat.

2. Appreciation of your food.  Digestion begins with seeing and smelling your food (you salivate when you see or smell a tasty meal).  Notice what you are about to eat.  Can you identify any of the ingredients involved?  Do you know where the food came from?  How is the food presented?  What size portion do you have?  Do you need utensils for the meal?  How many different colors and flavors can you identify?

3. Chewing.  It sounds so simple, and it is.  But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.  If you’ve never paid attention to how you chew your food, try it!  Chewing is an important step in digestion.  It not only makes things easier on your stomach and small intestine, but the saliva you produce contains digestive enzymes that begin to break down your food, readying it for nutrient absorption in the body.  Try counting to 5, 10, 20, or 30 before you swallow.  See if you can put your hands down, chew, swallow, and breathe before your next bite.

As I mentioned, mindfulness is a practice.  It’s not something that happens overnight.  So pick an area of focus that feels motivating and reasonable.  Start with a small goal (paying attention to how often you actually chew your food) and grow from there.  Sometimes it helps to keep a journal or log of how your mind and body feel along the way. 

And in conclusion, in the battle of Mindful Eating versus The Shovel Technique, my mom was right all along.  Don’t shovel your food, pay attention to it!  Your body will be ever so grateful.



The Oprah Zone


Have you ever been talking to someone (a friend, a colleague, someone you admire, someone who might potentially hire you, etc.) and, in your mind thought to yourself, “I’m nailing this conversation!”?  Every point was on point, your thoughts carefully crafted and well spoken, making great eye contact, and using excellent accompanying hand gestures.  Your audience is totally enraptured in what you’re saying and you’ve even got a few on-lookers in the background…I call this The Oprah Zone.  The shining moment when everything you say makes perfect sense and you look and feel fantastic as you’re saying it.  It’s a bright moment when you’re in the Oprah Zone.  It’s the moment when you feel totally grounded in yourself and are letting your best and highest qualities shine through.  At least this is how I imagine I would be if I were on the Oprah show; so pick the appropriate venue for you (Oscars, Grammys, Howard Stern, CNN, etc.).

However, as much as I love being in the Oprah Zone, I don’t believe it’s possible to feel this way (on top of the world) all of the time.  Being in the Zone is fabulous!  But when you’re not in the Zone (feeling less than), you don’t have to deny it or beat yourself up.  I truly believe that the lows are just as important as the highs, especially when we allow ourselves to be completely authentic about how we feel.

Sometimes when you’re feeling sad, low, uncomfortable, or not quite yourself, you need space.  Time alone to process how you’re feeling.  And other times, you need to reach out for support. 

This may sound entirely obvious, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy.  Much of what we see in the media and on social media showcases people in their Oprah Zones.  Advertisements promote products and services that appear to increase your likeability or enhance your image.  There is a lot of pressure to be perfect all of the time.  Striving to be better, to evolve, and to grow is different from trying to be perfect. 

I recently went to the doctor for a regular check-up and when the nurse took my blood pressure, it was elevated for the first time.  I ended up having a discussion with my doctor about anxiety, which both surprised me and felt like a huge relief.  Talking about anxiety makes me anxious, so I often try to avoid it.  But opening up and letting someone help me was the first step in feeling better.

The truth is that we are all more than our Oprah Zones.  We are beautifully complex creatures and I believe the authenticity of each of us is what matters the most.  Every part of you matters.  Every part of you contributes to your whole being.  You don’t have to like every part, thought, or behavior.  But if you choose to accept those components instead of denying them, transformation can happen. 

I was talking to a friend who had just gotten back from a trip to China and I asked her how it was and if she experienced any culture shock coming from the US.  She said at first certain things would seem really different, and it was easy to judge them.  But then she took a step back and realized that it was only her conditioning that was causing her to judge her surroundings.  It made me think about the way we interpret and judge our feelings.  If it’s possible to let go of our assumptions about another culture, maybe it’s possible to let go of our assumptions about ourselves.  Instead of feeling like we’re only “good” or “worthy” when we’re feeling great (happy, energized, inspired), perhaps we can notice that while we don’t like it when we feel not-so-great (sad, tired, hopeless), we can avoid judging ourselves as being “bad” or “unworthy.”

And yes, I do hope to meet the one and only Oprah someday.  Dream big!  

Can I lose weight and still eat cheese fries?


I was recently at a dinner party with a group of friends, one of whom I hadn’t caught up with in awhile.  She was asking me about my business and mentioned she might be interested in my services.  She leaned in and asked, “…but if I go on one of your plans, can I still eat cheese fries?  And can I still drink wine?  Or do I have to eat like you do?”  I laughed, first, because we had a history of eating cheese fries together and sharing dating stories over a glass (or several) of wine in our 20’s.  Second, because just as I could sense the feelings of frustration and deprivation that are associated with a rigid diet, I also know the ease and joy of finding the right diet for you (which may or may not include cheese fries).  And third, because I sometimes forget that people may not know that my diet does in fact include splurging on nachos, pizza, and cake balls*.

Let me explain.  I went back to nutrition school because I was confused and I was overwhelmed by the endless bounty of conflicting nutrition information out there.  I wanted to maintain a comfortable weight, but didn’t want to be tied to counting calories.  I wanted to enjoy food, not be stressed out by it.  I wanted to eat nutritious foods that supported my digestion, immunity, and helped balance my energy and mood.  I wanted someone to tell me what to eat!

The biggest lesson I learned along my journey was that nutrition is about more than the food you eat; it’s about the larger picture of life including how you spend your time and who you spend it with (see my blog on Primary Food).  Having said that, there are definitely some guidelines when it comes to the food you eat.  My number one rule is: experiment!  The best thing you can do for yourself in terms of nutrition is learn about a variety of evidence-based diets, try them out, and see what works.  How does your body feel on this particular diet?  How is your energy level throughout the day?  How is your general mood?  Do you enjoy the foods you’re eating?  Does this diet feel sustainable?  Can you still engage in your typical activities (including social events) while maintaining this diet?

As a rule of thumb, I follow Michael Pollan’s famous quote, “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”  I take food to mean real, whole foods: fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and seeds.  I personally include meats and dairy in my regular diet, some people do not.  I have found that the combination of eating real, whole foods and paying attention to my mental, physical, and emotional needs allows me to easily and effortlessly portion out my food intake.  Real, whole foods give me lasting satiation in a way that processed foods just don’t.  When I prioritize taking care of myself, and feel fulfilled by my career, my relationships, am getting enough physical movement, and expressing myself creatively, I don’t look to food for ultimate satisfaction.  This is no easy task, but it’s worth exploring because it works!  On the other hand, I believe balance and flexibility with food are key.  If you’re feeling in the mood, you can have a pint of ice cream or a glass (or several) of wine.  Just don’t make it a pattern.  If you love pizza, have it once in awhile.  And you don’t have to have just one piece.  Have several.  Be mindful (breathe and chew!), but enjoy a hearty portion.  And then go back to your regularly scheduled program of eating food, not too much, and mostly plants.  Plants contain incredible amounts of essential nutrients, so making them the focus of your diet gives your body a large dose (hence the recommendation to add veggies to your pizza or include a salad with your order).

So the answer to my friend’s burning question, “can I lose weight and still eat cheese fries?” Yes, yes you can!  Everyone is different and depending on your individual health needs, you may need to begin by cutting out a variety of foods that contribute to weight-gain or inflammation (including cheese fries) completely.  Otherwise, eating them once in awhile, embedded in a diet of eating food, not too much, and mostly vegetables, is ok.  Sigh of relief.

*Cake Balls:  You haven't tried them yet?! Consider them to be gourmet version of donuts holes but made with cake ingredients :) For Chicago city dwellers, I suggest George's on the north side in Andersonville and for the burbs, you can't go wrong with Foodstuffs in Evanston! (links below). Suggestion: Keep them in the freezer until you are ready to eat for maximum taste bud pleasure. Bon appetit!

The amazing benefit of Primary Food


One of the most revolutionary concepts I learned in nutrition school was the amazing benefit of Primary Food.  This concept can transform the way you think about what you eat.

What if I told you that the food you eat is secondary to what truly nourishes you?

Can you remember a time when you were engaged in something you loved so much you lost track of time?  Like talking to a good friend, wrapped up in sharing stories, and you didn’t even notice hours going by?  Singing a song, playing an instrument, taking photos, painting a picture.  Starting a new project, helping other people, working hard on something meaningful.  Doing something that satisfies you so deeply, you forget where you are.

When you’re doing things that you love, things that feed your soul, you rely less on “Secondary Food,” or the food you eat, and are nourished by “Primary Food.” When you are feeling happy, uplifted and fulfilled, food is still enjoyable and necessary, but becomes secondary.  You don’t have to think about portion control, because you’re only hungry for as much food as you truly need.  You are satisfied not by eating, but by the energy of the things that fill your time.

When you’re feeling sad, lost, or unfulfilled, you may turn to food to fill a void.  That void is a lack of Primary Food.  Primary Food can be anything, but often falls into the categories of career, relationships, physical activity, and creativity or spirituality. 

Try this.  Make a list of all the things that bring you so much joy that they seem to have an energy all of their own.  Notice which ones you engage in on a regular basis, and which ones you haven’t done in weeks, months, or years.  Maybe there are some things you’ve written down that you’ve dreamed about but haven’t tried yet.  Imagine what it would feel like if you were engaged in these activities on a regular basis.  How would you feel about your life?  How would you relate to food if it was secondary to what truly nourished you in life?

When I first learned about the concept of Primary Food, I felt like I was putting a name to something that I had felt for a long time.  When things were challenging, I would turn to food as a source of comfort and had to use a lot of energy to pay attention to what I was eating so I wouldn’t gain weight.  When I was feeling calm, happy and excited about life, I could eat whatever I wanted and not worry about it because I was craving foods that were good for me and I didn’t feel the need to over eat.

When you start to think more deeply about what nourishes you in a holistic way, you may start to notice patterns (eg.  when I’m stressed at work, I eat more junk food.  When I’m fighting with my partner, I crave sugar.  When I’m not giving myself enough self-care, I over-eat.).  You can use this new awareness as a way of listening to your body as it gives you signs that you need more Primary Food.   Sometimes it’s as simple as changing up your daily routine and circulating some new energy into your life like starting a new morning routine, taking a different route to work, or signing up for that class you’ve always been interested in.  Sometimes it means ending a relationship or changing careers. 

Experiment! What changes do you notice when you focus on feeding yourself more Primary Foods?

To learn more about Primary Food, check this out!

Nutrition is an art and a science


Nutrition is hot.  Health is sexy.  Working out is trendy.  Seems nowadays everyone wants a piece of the nutrition pie.  No doubt you’ve stumbled upon your fair share of books, articles, and videos about how to be the best, healthiest version of you.  Bright, shiny ads about the latest diet/supplement/workout that will transform your life and make you into the person you’ve always wanted to be.  If only you “click here,” you too can be the slim, smiling, fashionable version of yourself that up until now has always seemed illusive. 

What I’m about to say isn’t news.  But it is true.  There is no one-size-fits-all-quick-fix to having the perfect body, the perfect life, being happy, or feeling great.  It’s not to say that all the books, articles, and videos you’ve been consuming are full of garbage.  In fact, there are many incredible books, articles, and videos that are filled with fantastic information that can help you along in your quest towards looking and feeling great!  But I’ve noticed that many people tend to get caught up in the hype, thinking, “this is it!” and are then disappointed when yet another plan doesn’t work out.

The truth is you are the best expert in the field for your own health and nutrition.  Educating yourself on the work others are doing is a crucial component to achieving health, but so is questioning everything.  If you’re reading a book that tells you to work out 6 times a week for 90-minutes per day and that leaves you overwhelmed, exhausted, and bingeing on junk food, it’s not the right plan for you.  If a health article says to eat beets once per day, but it upsets your stomach and causes diarrhea, it’s not the right plan for you.  If you’re friend lost weight eating a high-protein, low-carb diet, but that same diet leaves you anxious, moody, and dizzy, that plan is not right for you.

We are all different. 

Nutrition is an art and a science.  Lots of scientific evidence supports eating certain foods for certain nutrients and in specific combinations for the most effective recipe for health.  But we don’t live static lives inside of test tubes.  We live in the unpredictable world where being creative is a survival weapon.  Learn as much as you can, and then experiment with everything you’ve learned. 

If you want to learn more about which plan works for you, let’s talk.