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Love Yourself #3: Have Some Chocolate

Do your memories of camping involve squares of chocolate melted onto Graham crackers, clinging to marshmallows, and licked from fingers? Does your winter routine involve mugs of hot cocoa after a day of playing in (or shoveling) the snow?

Good news: in the right form, this decadent delight is exceedingly good for your heart, your skin, your performance and your mood. (Okay, that last one you knew already.) Raw cacao nibs, beans and powder may require you to branch off the beaten path, but your brain and body will thank you.

Raw chocolate is actually cacao, the seed of the fruit growing on the cacao tree. And cacao is a certified superfood—one of those foods that boost immunity, pack nutrients and protein, and deliver major levels of antioxidants. In fact, experts say the raw cacao bean trumps the blueberry in terms of antioxidant levels. Here’s why that’s amazing news for chocolate lovers hoping to stay in shape for this summer’s adventures:

Gorgeous glow. Antioxidants can protect skin from sun damage, improve circulation to the skin, promote hydration, smooth imperfections, and imbue skin with that special glow. The higher the percentage of cacao in chocolate, the more antioxidants it packs. Opt for chocolate bars that are 70% or higher in cacao—especially raw cacao made with organic ingredients.

Better mood. Chocolate’s high levels of tryptophan enable the body to release the hormone responsible for making you happy. That’s why chocolate is a natural mood enhancer.

Healthy heart. One square of dark chocolate (70 percent cacao or higher) contains more phenols than a glass of red wine. Phenols help sweep arteries clean from the bad fats that tend to cling there. Chocolate also helps dilate the cardiovascular system, allowing the heart to function at top form.

More endurance. Energy and stamina are always advantages, whether you’re foraging or fishing in the great outdoors or simply fixing a home repair. Recent studies have found that dark chocolate can boost athletic performance. In particular, cyclists who ate dark chocolate prior to hopping on their wheels were more efficient in their oxygen use and were able to bike a longer distance in a timed trial.

Want to maximize the benefits of chocolate on your next camping trip? Make your own heart-healthy, mood-boosting, stamina-stoking trail mix with raw cacao nibs or beans, gogi berries, mulberries, raw nuts and seeds. Let us know how it turns out!


Love Yourself #2: Eat Your Heart Out

“Every food a person might eat either fights or contributes to disease.” – Stephen L. Kopecky, MD, cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic

Does it surprise you that most Americans would rather pop a pill than adjust their eating and exercise regimens.

While it’s true that medications like statins work—and are far easier to “swallow” (no pun intended) than major life overhauls—it’s a fact that the right kind of diet and exercise will maximize the benefits of any cholesterol-lowering drug, while providing a broad swath of protection against heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes.

The Mayo Clinic cardiologist quoted above endorses a Mediterranean diet, one that typifies the eating habits of people living in Greece and Italy. In those countries, it’s not uncommon to eat an average of nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables, as well as seafood each day. They enjoy healthy, heart-protective fats but treat processed foods as a rare indulgence. Besides the heart benefits, studies suggest this kind of diet reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s, cancer, Parkinson’s, arthritis, diabetes, and the metabolic syndrome that’s a cluster of pre-diabetic risk factors.

Should you want to dip a toe (or more) into the Mediterranean this month, here are ways to tweak your eating regimen without complete mutiny:

  • Shop the perimeter of your grocery store to buy produce such as strawberries,  blueberries, red grapes, oranges, spinach, broccoli, red bell peppers, eggplant, and corn. If you have it on hand, it’s less of a hassle to cook with it—and easier to get in your two-plus servings of vegetables and three-plus servings of fruits, each day.
  • Try to eat seafood three times each week, making one (or more) a fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and trout.
  • Tweak your scrambled eggs by using two egg whites for every one yolk.
  • Skip the butter and even the margarine. Use olive oil to cook your food, drizzle your dish, and dip your bread. Canola oil is also a good choice for cooking.

Taper your reliance on red or processed meats. There’s no need to swear them off; but make your primary protein source either fish, leaner cuts, or vegetable protein like lentils, black beans, and split peas.


Love Yourself #1: Head Over Heart

Humans form an emotional brain long before a rational one, and a beating heart before either.

Last month, we talked about the destructive nature of stress – against body, mind and spirit – and the power of positive emotion to unravel the knots of negativity. As with any skill, positive thinking grows stronger and faster with practice. It may seem awkward or forced at first. But eventually, through dedicated practice, you will feel as comfortable in this “positive framework” as you will feel ill at ease in the negative one. It’s easy to get sucked into the downward spiral; but on the flip side, it’s just as easy to hold fast to the “upward spiral” generated by positive thinking.

How does HeartMath (heartmath.org) factor into the equation? And why is it exciting that HeartMath has just released an app?

The HeartMath Institute began 35 years ago as an inquiry into post-operative heart surgery patients. But along the way, researchers bumped into a key component of the heart and how it plays into our emotion—and how it helps us become good parents and good partners; focused athletes; and high-achieving students who don’t fall prey to anxiety. Heart intelligence, the theory goes, is the source of emotional intelligence and logical thinking. (The head and the heart don’t clash as much as love songs would suggest.) And when cultivated, it can help us bridge the connection between heart and mind; and build a connection to the hearts of others.

Like the gut, the heart has a direct line to the brain; and the two are in constant communication. But the heart relays far more information to the brain than the brain sends to the heart. Specifically, heart signals target the brain centers involved in decision-making, creativity, and emotional experience.

Early HeartMath research found that negative emotions threw the nervous system out of balance—creating disordered and jagged rhythms on the study’s heart monitor, and clouding thinking to the point of irrationality and confusion. Positive emotions, by contrast, were found to increase order and balance in the nervous system to produce smooth, harmonious heart rhythms that not only reduced stress; but also enhanced people’s ability to perceive the world around them. Positive thinking hones creativity, affords clarity, and boosts concentration. The coherence of synchronized systems—brain, heart, nervous—can yield reduced blood pressure for hypertensive patients, improvements in asthma, enhanced well-being, increased emotional stability, and improved cognitive performance.  It can reduce anxiety and “helplessness” in favor of logical thinking underpinning plans of action.  In short, it can help us feel completely at peace…with strength. What better Valentine’s gift to yourself and your loved ones?

Visit www.heartmath.org to learn more.


New Starts #4: Encouraging ALL Our Children

“A teacher affects eternity. He or she can never tell where his or her influence stops.” – Henry Adams

Whether we have sons or daughters, we want our children to maximize their potential and cultivate their natural talents, innate gifts, and proven “knack” for anything from language to leadership. But a spate of recent research has shown that by the age of six—in other words, by the time most kids are in kindergarten, barely on the threshold of grade school—girls are less likely than boys to view their own gender as brilliant; and they start to rule out certain activities as “not for them” by virtue of not being smart enough. They may be absorbing cultural stereotypes about brilliance. If they watch television, they may realize that geniuses portrayed on television are almost exclusively men (think Sherlock Holmes or Sheldon Cooper from “The Big Bang Theory”). And if they watch their parents, they may be picking up on the stereotypes that Mom and Dad imperceptibly uphold and advance.

Think modern parents aren’t guilty of gender bias? Aggregate data in 2014 from Google searches reveal that American parents are two and a half times more likely to Google “is my son a genius” than “is my daughter a genius.” And this is despite the fact that girls consistently show larger vocabularies and use more complex sentences from an early age.

Parents also Google “Is my daughter overweight?” roughly twice as much as “Is my son overweight?” Again, this is fueled by bias – not reality. 33 percent of boys, and 30 percent of girls, are overweight. But parents see, and ruminate over, what they want to see.

In an Illinois study, ninety-six children were told two stories: one about a “really, really smart” person and one about a “really, really nice person.” The children were shown four pictures (two boys, two girls) and asked to guess which one might be the person in each story. At age five, boys and girls were equally likely to associate intelligence with their own gender. But at six, the likelihood of girls picking other girls as the “really, really smart” one sharply declined. Many girls, and most boys, picked the boy. And this remained consistent across all races, parent education and family incomes.

Another test asked children to play a game that was either for “really, really smart” people or one that was for children who “try really, really hard.” Girls were less interested in the former game, indicating a strong preference for the latter.

All the more reason for parents and teachers to make a conscious effort to battle ingrained, even unconscious stereotypes; encourage girls to develop broad interests; and take as much an interest in our daughters’ minds as in their bodies. E-commerce giants like Amazon has launched a subscription service for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) toys. Despite recent gains for women in the workforce, women in STEM are still under-represented. We can change that with a few adjustments to our thinking.


New Starts #3: Time to Chill

“Health is not only to be well but to use well all the powers that you have.” – Florence Nightingale

We all know January is the “time to chill.” But in this post, we’re going to discuss chilling as a means of reducing stress, tension, anxiety and negativity in your life. To that end, here are some key facts about stress:

  1. Your body can’t discriminate between major stressors and minor ones. Whether it’s a traffic jam or a computer virus, the stress reaction triggers a cascade of 1,400 biochemical events in your body, taking over a critical part of our brain.
  2. Stress can make smart people do stupid things: clouding our thinking, draining our energy, undercutting our productivity, and even aging us prematurely if left unchecked. We’ve all “lost it” in a stressful situation, likely surprising even ourselves. That’s because stress causes what researchers call “cortical inhibition,” bottle-necking our brain function. And the shallow breathing of stress raises heart rate and blood pressure, even changing blood chemistry in a way that makes your platelets stickier. Sadly, that increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. No wonder there’s an expression about taking “a chill pill”!
  3. We can grow numb to stress with enough exposure. Often the daily pressures and irritations of life begin to seem like “the new normal” and cease to faze us. But we may not realize how much they’re undermining our mental, emotional, and physical health until it manifests as a rash decision, an impulsive outburst, or even an unwanted medical diagnosis.
  4. We are fully in control of how we react to stress! We can rewire our stress response to override it with calm, cool and collected “coherence” — bringing the brain, heart and nervous system in harmony, and fostering peak performance.
  5. Handling stress in the moment is the best strategy. Millions of us use the “binge and purge” approach to stress: letting it build up all day, burying it inside, and waiting for an evening yoga class or the weekend. This doesn’t work — the stress response has already activated.

The good news: positive emotion is the antidote to stress in every way, and this mode of thought and reaction grows stronger with practice. And because it utilizes the same receptors as stress, it’s literally impossible to feel stress while you’re cultivating positive emotion and positive thinking. One strategy to do so is a combination of deep breathing and gratitude for the joyful things in our lives. Place your hand on your heart, visualize your breath moving in and out through your heart, and think of a person or place that brings you joy. You can use this practice before you fall asleep, when you wake up in the middle of the night, to prepare for an important communication (from a meeting to a mingle), and to recoup or recover from a stressful situation.  Studies show it leads to improved relationships, improved sleep, improved performance at work and at play, and a greater sense of balance and ease.


New Starts #2: Never Say Diet

Most of us approach the new year with a resolve to lose weight—but it gets difficult when popular diets undermine and contradict each other. We should go meatless but eat like a caveman? We should avoid sugar yet indulge on fruit? We shouldn’t eat between meals, but we should subsist on frequent snacks?

And so our weight loss gets stalled before it begins. How can we possibly decide whether to embrace or avoid fats, carbs, sugar, dairy, gluten, wheat, grazing, and snacks?

In a recent article, Greatist.com counsels to “think of dieting like dating.”

“You wouldn’t choose to be in a relationship with someone you despise from day one, so why would you do that with the foods you eat. Every. Single. Day. You will quit the plan, you will learn to hate healthy eating, and you’ll probably end up more frustrated and confused than when you started.”

So if you love bread and pasta, don’t attempt to restrict your carbs. If you love dessert, avoid restricted sugar eating plans. If you enjoy waking up to a hearty breakfast or ending the day with a late-night snack, don’t buy into diets that prescribe huge lunches.

At the end of the day, “diet” is the wrong approach. But enjoying your food, honoring your hunger, and observing portion size – day in and day out – will all help you lose weight without finding it again, without the drama and heartbreak of a toxic relationship. To that end, remember these general guidelines:

Drink water, eat fiber. Both water and fiber-rich foods can battle bloat and better sync your gut and your brain so you stop eating when you’ve had your fill. Try crunching on zucchini and cucumber (not chips), popping frozen grapes as a late-night snack, and warming up with peppermint tea instead of soda.

Beware the “health halo.” That’s the blinding light surrounding certain foods that beguile us into eating badly when we think we’re making a healthy choice.  For example: granola bars, protein shakes, veggie chips, fruit juice, and frozen yogurt. There’s nothing wrong with having these in moderation – just watch your portion size; otherwise sugar levels can approach that of a king-size candy bar.

Keep it real. Consoled with fat-free or sugar-free versions of your favorite food? The health halo strikes again. When food makers take out fat, they replace the lost flavor with sugar and salt.  When they take out sugar, they replace the lost flavor with fat. All experts say to eat the regular version of anything, from cheddar to chocolate, in moderation. You’ll be far more satisfied.

Savor and socialize. No need to shy away from dinner with family or friends! When you enjoy every bite, and every conversational bit, you will feel fuller much faster.

Don’t skip meals! It messes with your metabolism and sets you up for more overeating. If you over-indulged at lunch or dinner, it’s okay. Make the next meal “green and clean”: lean protein, fish, vegetables, fruits, to keep your energy up and your willpower strong.

Get enough sleep. Besides suppressing hormones that fuel hunger, eight hours of shut-eye means less incentive to nosh late at night, sharper focus in the morning, and more energy to jump into activities you enjoy.


New Starts #1: Tiny Habits, Big Impact

We’ve all heard it: New Year, New You. We’ve done everything we’re
“supposed” to do: joined a gym, cleared the fridge, sharpened our pencils, upgraded our software, and installed that zen-like Meditation app on our phone.

Here’s the problem: most habits don’t have the sticking power to see you through 2017. You might start to break them before you even make them—and throw in the towel before you’ve even brought it to the gym. Maybe that’s because you (secretly) don’t like the treadmill; or you start to fidget when you’re told to “relax”; or a salad with dressing on the side just doesn’t fill you up. Understandably, willpower erodes quickly.

A new approach to change called the Fogg Method reboots the self-inflicted “torture” – think of any diet regimen, abandoned painting project, or dust-gathering gym pass – that inevitably crumbles, backfires, and drains our resources. The psychologist behind the method, B.J. Fogg, lists three steps to focus on training your brain to succeed at small adjustments, celebrate small victories, and draw confidence from them to create momentum and rewrite the “scripts” from inevitable failure to resounding success.

  1. Identify your outcome. Do you want to feel more energetic, less stressed, more focused, less rushed? Do you want to lose 10 percent of your bodyweight, score that promotion, or pull yourself out of debt? And how will that change make you feel? Grounding resolve in our feelings clarifies our decisions, our goals, and our actions.
  2. Identify the “tiny habits” that will help us, incrementally, approach our goals. It’s not necessarily working out at the gym; maybe it’s walking with a friend. Instead of working longer hours, maybe it’s working smarter – requesting that faster computer or second monitor, for example. If meditation makes you antsy, lunch with a friend or cuddling your pet might relax you more. And that’s okay.
  3. Find a trigger – a pre-existing habit – and graft the new habit onto it, in a diluted version that requires little motivation. Examples: putting an apple on the counter when you make coffee, doing one push-up after using the bathroom, flossing one tooth after brushing them all, tossing one piece of garbage from your car each time you park, or lacing your sneakers after washing the dishes. You don’t have to actually eat the apple, crank out calisthenics, floss all your teeth, vacuum your vinyl seats, or head out to jog—yet. This will come in good time. In the meantime, as the Fogg online health coach phrases it, “You’re rewriting your identity as someone who succeeds.” Small victories aggregate into large changes. To join Tiny Habits, visit tinyhabits.com.

Finding Warmth in Winter #4: Hibernation at Home

These snowmen hot chocolate (see picture) from BuzzFeed remind us that home isn’t only where the heart is; it’s where the hearth is! Don’t get us wrong; we love outdoor adventures when the sun’s blazing and the flowers blooming. But in winter gloom, staying put has its perks.

Cranking up the heat will guarantee a warm house, but it gets expensive quickly. Foregoing heat is not an option, either. And it’s inefficient to lower the heat drastically when you’re out – you’ll just expend energy ratcheting it up when you return.
Here are ten ways to lower the thermostat and lower your bills:

  1. Look up — check your roof for missing shingles, cracked shingles, and leaks! The typical asphalt shingle roof lasts around 25 years. If you can see sunlight from your attic, then cold air and precipitation can find their way into your home.
  2. Seal all cracks in your window frame. The Good Housekeeping Institute recommends shinning a flashlight or candle on the frame – with a partner outside. If they can see light, it’s time to caulk and seal!
  3. Reverse your ceiling fan’s motor to clockwise. This will create an updraft that pushes the rising warm air back down to where it benefits you.
  4. Splurge on blankets. Layering multiple blankets is key to keeping warm, and down comforters with high thread counts are known for their toasty-toes factor.
  5. Throw open the shades when the sun comes out; draw them shut at night. This will harness solar energy for a mild warming effect.
  6. Invest in blackout shades with a thermal lining to help save energy.
  7. Stop the chill from sneaking under doors and around outlets with doorstoppers and outlet insulators.
  8. Throw rugs everywhere! Wool feels cozier than floorboards on the feet, and offers insulation to boot (sorry, couldn’t resist.).
  9. Don’t heat rooms that you don’t use! If no one plans to occupy the guest room for a while, close the vents and door.
  10. Get a “smart” thermostat (like the Nest Learning Thermostat) for your home. You can program these devices to lower the temperature slightly when you’re not there, then adjust when you return. Eventually, the thermostat will learn your schedule and program itself.

Finding Warmth in Winter #3: Sparking Resolve Before January First

Cheers! This week you’ve got Christmas leftovers, Hanukah latkes, family dinners, New Year’s toasts, lazy afternoons, and access to enough food to send you into hibernation. Next week you’ve got clean breaks, fresh starts, work obligations, time crunches, goals to meet, and resolutions to uphold.

Let’s get these two weeks working together, rather than locking horns. Here’s our guide to getting a “running start” toward successful resolutions, without skimping on fun this week.

Drink water, eat fiber. Both water and fiber-rich foods can battle holiday bloat. To accomplish both at once, try water-rich vegetables such as zucchini and cucumber. And to warm up with stomach-soothing hydration, try peppermint tea.

Linger over meals. You read that right! Take advantage of the more relaxed pace of holiday week by eating socially, and slowly. Help yourself to cookies — and enjoy each bite. When you savor each bite as much as you savor the people around you, you will feel fuller much faster…so much so, that three cookies (instead of seven) will do the trick.

Freeze some grapes. They’re the perfect (water-filled) snack to pop while you’re cuddling on the couch, watching TV. (Other ideas: plain popcorn, sliced strawberries, hummus and black-bean chips.)

Get enough sleep. Even when you’re out to dinner or a party, block off eight hours for shut-eye. You’ll have less incentive to nosh late at night and sharper focus in the morning. Which brings us to our fifth suggestion.

Get moving every day. Power through the food coma; you’ll feel better almost instantly. From a 15-minute walk after a big meal to a family hike outdoors, staying active helps body, mind, and soul feel satisfied—not sluggish.

Don’t skip meals! It messes with your metabolism and sets you up for more overeating. If you indulged to much at lunch or dinner, it’s okay. Make the next meal “green and clean”: lean protein, fish, vegetables, fruits, to keep your energy up and your willpower strong.

Eat with your non-dominant hand. Strange, but true! Check out this article from Dr. Oz: http://www.drozthegoodlife.com/healthy-lifestyle/body/tips/a1767/stop-overeating-wrong-hand-trick/


Finding Warmth in Winter #2: Ice, Ice, Baby!

“We don’t fight winter; we take advantage of it.” – The Book of Hygge

America winters are rough, but Nordic ones are even rougher. That may explain why countries such as Norway and Denmark invest in the concept of hygge (hoo-guh), which roughly translates to finding joy in your current situation – in this case, winter – by warming your body and soul and cultivating the comfort of home, whether you’re there or not. Think soup, mulled wine and hot cocoa with marshmallows; slippers, robes and scented candles; and lots of time with family and friends — plus blissful solitude, whether engrossed in a book, curled on the couch and/or submerged in a bubble bath.

We’re on board. But, with that said: how do we explain the surging popularity of ice hotels? These are temporary lodging places (rebuilt, post-thaw, each year) in which the walls, fixtures and fittings are made entirely of ice or compacted snow, cemented with an ice-coated packed snow called snice (that’s “snow” and “ice”).

You wouldn’t camp out in an igloo or mold drinking vessels out of snow; so why pay to sleep on a bed of snow and toast to your health (or lack thereof) with ice glasses at a solid-brick ice bar?

The Nordic countries have their share of ice hotels, some built from the frozen waters of local rivers. Here in North America, Quebec’s Hotel de Glace (Ice Hotel) first opened in January 2001. Its ice beds have wooden frames, deer skins and arctic sleeping bags; and before turning in for the night, guests can enjoy a shot of vodka at the Absolut Ice Bar.

In fact, how-to videos for sleeping on ice all recommend that guests warm up with a cocktail before bed. Guests report feeling so warm and cozy – safely ensconced in the snow – that many shed their thermal underwear by morning. The breakfasts include hot juice, of course.

Would you venture into an ice hotel during the camping hiatus? Tell us why!