I just realized that I haven't written a blog post since May! That's 7 months, wow...I had a pretty busy summer filled with weddings, sunshine, and continuous work on my chronic pain recovery and wellness journey, so I think I defaulted to using Instagram as my main form of "blogging" for a while there.
I've been wanting to write a blog post about my favourite wellness hacks/tips for some time now, and I figured I should just sit down and do it! As a health and wellness junkie, I love reading other bloggers' posts about how they stay happy, healthy, and balanced - below, I'll share my 10 favourite wellness tips that have helped me to do so. I hope you all enjoy this post, and find the tips helpful!
1. Intermittent Fasting
I will start by saying that if you have any blood sugar issues, or any other health issues that you're concerned about, definitely consult with your health care provider before attempting this. I first tried this eating schedule out in 2015, practiced it on and off for awhile, and have been implementing it daily since June 2017. It's been really great for my digestion and mental clarity! You might be wondering what exactly intermittent fasting is - basically, when you're in your "fasting" window, you don't eat or consume anything that will cause secretion of insulin; you can have water, black coffee or tea, and zero calorie sweeteners (I usually drink LOTS of filtered water and herbal tea - still trying to figure out whether my body can handle coffee). This eating schedule has been super convenient for me.
There are many different styles of intermittent fasting - i.e. 20:4, where you fast for 20 hours and eat only during a 4 hour window (this is personally too intense for me), 14:10 (fast for 14 hours, eat during a 10 hour window - I occasionally do this if I'm going to an earlier brunch or other event that involves food, or if I'm super hungry earlier in the day), and 16:8 (this is my favourite! I usually start eating around noon or 1pm, and stop eating around 8 or 9 pm). These are just a few schedules you can follow! From my research, to get the benefits of fasting, you want to be doing it for a minimum of 12 hours. And just to clarify, while intermittent fasting, I eat the same number of calories I would in a regular "full" day of eating - just in a smaller time frame.
There is so much research surrounding the benefits of intermittent fasting, such as increased insulin sensitivity, improved digestion, increased secretion of growth hormone, and improved hormone balance, to name a few. It's also great if you're tracking macros, or just a super busy individual who doesn't always have time to eat every 3 hours throughout the day (this is definitely me when I'm at my nursing job - I never feel hungry when I wake up at 6am, so eating during my first break is perfect).
There's so much I could say about how beneficial intermittent fasting has been for me, but I'll save that for a whole other blog post! If it's something that interests you, I would definitely recommend checking out some articles on Google Scholar - but remember, it's not for everyone, so if you absolutely hate it, or don't feel good while doing it, don't force yourself to do it. See below for some great articles with more info:
I've heard so many people say "sleep is for the weak", or talk about how they survive on coffee and energy drinks. Sleep has always been so precious to me - I used to be the best sleeper, too - I'd be out like a light before my head even hit the pillow, and I could power nap like a champ! However, last year, with my chronic pain issues + all the stress I was under, I started having a lot of trouble falling asleep, plus I'd be tossing and turning all night and was just not getting enough rest. I had to start taking melatonin, and for many months I couldn't sleep without it. Luckily, this year, I was able to re-structure my sleep schedule, and wean myself off melatonin. Some tips that I used to help improve the quality and duration of my sleeps were:
- try to sleep at the same time every night
- decrease use of electronics before bed (still working on this one, to be honest! it's hard)
- exercise regularly, and not too late at night
- limit caffeine consumption (matcha lattes are a great alternative, or try to stop drinking coffee past noon)
- do something relaxing before bed (i.e. reading, taking an epsom salt bath, meditation, use essential oils)
- decrease stress as much as possible (do the best you can - this can be a tough one, I know)
- take adaptogenic powders daily (I take ashwaganda powder - this is a substance that helps improve immune function, energy levels, and decrease stress - consult with your health care provider before starting to take any adaptogens)
Sleep is so important because it's the time during which our bodies rest, recover, and restore themselves. If you think about how amazing our biological processes are, and how hard they work each day for hours on end without us even noticing, it only makes sense that they need to recalibrate and reset each night while we sleep. I personally aim to get 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep each night (sometimes it's on the lower end, and sometimes it's on the higher end, but that's generally the spectrum of time in which I feel best).
3. Identify food sensitivities and be mindful of them
You'll hear me say this a lot - gluten, dairy, and refined sugar (and even too much non-refined sugar) aren't super close friends of mine. I feel the most energetic, healthy, and balanced when I'm eating a diet free of these things. That's not to say that I don't indulge in them every once in a while, but I find that the further along in my health and wellness journey (and the older I get - ha), the less I'm tempted to indulge in these things, because I know how unbalanced they'll make me feel. I'm definitely at a point in my life where I want to feel as great as possible as consistently as I can! It makes such a huge difference in my day to day life.
I'm a strong believer that food is medicine, and I'm quite mindful of respecting my body's limits and sensitivities - I actively choose to consume lots of fresh fruits and veggies, quality sources of protein, healthy fats, and supplements that will help me look and feel my best. With that being said, I also believe that everyone is different! It takes a little work, but finding out what fuels your body best is a lifelong gift you can give to yourself in the form of health, longevity, and happiness.
4. Make gut health a priority
I'm so happy that gut health is being talked about more and more - you may have heard that the gut is like our second brain. Studies show that the gut has the power to influence not only digestion, but mood and overall health. Did you know that 95% of serotonin (a "feel good" neurotransmitter) is produced in the gut? If our gut microbiome is out of whack, it's no wonder we start feeling off. Speaking of "happy chemicals", click here to read a great article by MindBodyGreen on how to naturally trigger these in your body.
I noticed such a difference in my mental health, well-being, and overall happiness and daily function when I started making my gut health a priority - back when I was filling myself up with all the foods I was sensitive to, I suffered from inconsistent/low moods, higher stress levels, and feelings of anxiety. Like I mentioned before, everyone is a little different in terms of sensitivities and nutrition, but there are several things you can do (and that I did) to improve your overall gut health:
- start taking a probiotic supplement (I really like the Renew Life brand - I get it from Vitasave or Victoria's Health)
- increase fibre intake (i.e. eat more plants! Some great options include chickpeas, raspberries, lentils, broccoli, etc.)
- CHEW YOUR FOOD :) this was sooo hard for me to train myself to do, but I now aim for 20-30 chews per bite
- consume prebiotic and probiotic rich foods (i.e. kimchi, bone broth, garlic, jicama, bananas, sauerkraut, kombucha)
- take a daily collagen supplement (brands I like are WithinUs marine collagen or Organika Health bovine collagen - I add a serving to my oatmeal, smoothies, or daily adaptogenic lattes!)
- try to consume a diet of mostly whole, unprocessed foods
- intermittent fasting (told you I love it! This gives your body a nice digestion break for at least 12 hours)
- avoid or decrease intake of foods that cause irritation or inflammation (i.e. trans fats, gluten, alcohol, caffeine, dairy, refined sugar - I'm pretty sensitive to all of these, personally, but some people may not be)
- decrease stress as much as possible (for me, I changed my whole mindset and approach towards life - I started practicing gratitude, did some sessions with a registered psychologist, started taking ashwaganda powder each day to decrease cortisol levels, and getting exercise and fresh air daily)
5. Make self care a priority
We live in a society that associates being busy with being successful. Don't get me wrong, I definitely believe in hard work, hustling, setting goals - whatever you want to call it. However, taking on too much, setting unrealistic timelines for yourself, and/or neglecting your health and well-being is the quickest recipe for burnout (trust me, I've been there - and it takes even longer to recover from burnout than it does to achieve it). I'm sure you've heard the phrase "You can't pour from an empty cup - take care of yourself first" - I used to think this was pretty cheesy and cliché, but now I couldn't agree with it more.
Self care doesn't necessarily look the same for each person - while I love things like getting massages, reading, drinking adaptogenic lattes, taking bubble baths, cooking, and weight training, this might not be another person's cup of tea. Self care can come in many shapes and forms - the most important aspects of it are that it provides you with the following things:
- a break from life to do something enjoyable
- down time to give yourself a mental and physical break
- feelings of relaxation, happiness and re-energization
- benefits related to your health and well-being in some way
6. Apple Cider Vinegar
I love love loooove this stuff. I started drinking 1 tbsp in a small glass of warm water every morning, and it's greatly improved my digestion, my immune function, and my skin. I've also used it to gargle with if I feel a sore throat/cold coming on, as a shampoo to help combat dry scalp, and sometimes as a gentle toner for my skin! It's a natural detoxifier, and so versatile - it can also be used in lots of cooking and baking recipes as well. If you're not already on the ACV train, I highly recommend checking this stuff out! I really like the Bragg's brand (can find at most grocery stores).
I'm not just talking about going to the gym, or doing whatever exercise you enjoy, though these things are very important. I'm talking about moving your body throughout the day, so that your joints, muscles, bones, and tissues get regular use outside of the hour you might spend at the gym everyday.
After experiencing a huge decrease in mobility at various points over the past 2 years since my car accident, I have such an immense appreciation for what my body is capable of - this also came with an increased awareness of how much I'm moving on a daily basis. When I got my FitBit back in February of this year, I had no idea how many steps I was averaging each day. Some days, I wasn't even hitting 1000 steps before noon! I made it a goal to improve this (as well as my overall strength and mobility), and I'm happy to say things have gotten better since then, and that my body is naturally more inclined to be active throughout the day (i.e. taking the stairs vs. the elevator, walking wherever possible, stretching, etc.). Our bodies were literally designed to move - chances are, if you make it a point to be a more active person, you'll feel more energetic and balanced overall! I definitely do.
8. Switching to safer personal care products
I also love how this topic is getting more popular. I didn't use to think twice about the products I was putting on my skin, hair, etc. - but after attending a few workshops on holistic health and reading up on research from people like David Suzuki and the Environmental Working Group, I now know the effects that toxic ingredients can have on both the environment and our health (I'll link these articles + some amazing company websites below) - especially for women, as they can seriously affect our hormones. I'm still working on it, but I think I've switched out 95% of my personal care products (i.e. makeup, shampoo & conditioner, toothpaste, deodorant, soap) to safer alternatives (i.e. Arbonne makeup and skincare, The Green Beaver haircare and toothpaste, I Luv It Natural Deodorant, handmade soaps from the farmer's market) and it's a huge weight off my shoulders. Not only do I feel better, but it's a great feeling to actively participate in taking charge of your health and wellness, as well as make a positive impact on the environment.
**Side note - click here to read a great article about how to transition to natural deodorant. I had no idea about this before making the switch, and it was so helpful and made the process much easier!
The great thing about Vancouver is that there are so many options for makeup and personal care products that are cruelty free, non-toxic, and locally made. For example, I recently had an appointment at the Green Beauty Collective, which is a natural beauty business, and got to chat with Amanda and Jacqueline (the founders) about the amazing products they offer. I had been struggling to find a non-aerosol/non-toxic dry shampoo and a natural matte red lipstick, and came out of my appointment with both of those things! I now use Coast Dry Shampoo and Elate Cosmetics Lipstick. If you aren't able to make an appointment with these lovely ladies, even checking out their website would be helpful (see below), as they share lots of information about natural beauty, and you can also browse their beautiful product selection.
Article by David Suzuki on the "Dirty Dozen" cosmetic chemicals: http://davidsuzuki.org/issues/health/science/toxics/dirty-dozen-cosmetic-chemicals/
Environmental Working Group Cosmetics SkinDeep Database (you can see the safety rating on many products based on their ingredients): http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/why-skin-deep/#.We1oFK3Myt8
The Green Beauty Collective: https://thegreenbeautycollective.com
Arbonne International: https://www.arbonne.com/pws/homeoffice/tabs/home.aspx
9. Stand up for and honour your wellness journey + be flexible when you want
I realize that these are two very different things! I'll elaborate.
Firstly, I'll start by saying that I'm so lucky to have an amazing family and group of friends who respects and supports my personal choices, needs, and priorities when it comes to health and wellness. However, I've definitely had to deal with my fair share of people that tell me to "just enjoy myself!" when I tell them I can't or don't want to do something that won't serve me well (i.e. eat something with gluten or dairy). It's taken time, but I've definitely learned to stand my ground and make the choices that I want to make in that moment while still being respectful about it.
This brings me to being flexible - I've learned that it's really easy to stress out about eating the "wrong" thing, or going off track (i.e. having some ice cream or using "toxic" products every now and then). Personally, I find that there are simply times when it's just easier for me to be flexible (i.e. eat foods I'm sensitive to while traveling because I'm hungry and that's better than being hangry, or because I'm in Paris and I straight up want to have croissants and crepes everyday), rather than stress about getting things 100% perfect all the time.
Don't get me wrong, I think consistency is great for our bodies and minds, but every now and then it's ok to fall off track, or even choose to treat yourself to something that might not make you feel that great, but tastes amazing (I'm looking at you, pizza). Life is a balancing act, and in order to enjoy it to the fullest, I try to be a little more flexible and carefree when I can :)
10. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY!
This is basically my catchphrase! I've gotten pretty good at listening to what my body is telling me, but it still takes a lot of practice and self-awareness to maintain this intuitive relationship. From food sensitivities to toxic relationships to a nasty flu bug, I can usually tell when something isn't vibing well with my bod (do people still say vibing?).
An example of this is when I went off the birth control pill in February of this year - I was quite relieved to get off it, for many personal reasons, but I realized I definitely have some sort of hormonal imbalance going on. As tough as this was to accept, when my doctor gave me the option of going back on the pill to "regulate" my cycles, I literally felt my body recoil and be like nahhh, we're not doing that again. I've decided to try and balance out my hormones using a more natural approach - I read Alissa Vitti's book, "Woman Code", which many women have use to achieve optimal hormonal health, and started implementing cycle syncing (click here to read an awesome blog post by Lee Tilghman about what exactly this is). I've also been seeing a naturopath to get some guidance re: diet, hormone balancing, chronic pain management, and supplementation. I'm still figuring things out for myself, but when I do, it'll be so rewarding and I'll be that much more in tune with my body and how to help it thrive.
I talk about body wisdom all the time, because I truly believe that our bodies know what's best for us, and can tell us so much about what's going on internally and in our external lives - we just have to tune in a bit and listen. I know it can be challenging at times to try and figure out what exactly is going on, but it's also empowering to take charge of your own health and wellness, and do some investigating.
I hope these tips were helpful! It makes me so happy to promote health and wellness. Thanks, as always, for reading. xo